CT Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and her counterpart in Rhode Island, Ken Wagner, recently offered salient ideas about how their states are ahead of the curve on assessing students’ performance according to the Common Core State Standards – and how assessment is changing for the better.  It’s all about executing and communicating well.

In a very frank discussion April 8th at the Yale School of Management’s annual Education Leadership Conference, Dr. Wentzell and Dr. Wagner shared the view that the assessments of critical thinking in connection with the Common Core eliminate time-consuming test prep activities because the exams are no longer multiple-choice, process of elimination exercises.

Whereas there was once a logic to test prep under previous State tests, those activities are now “kind of silly,” Dr. Wagner said.

The more rigorous Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) assessments that Connecticut uses require students to interpret evidence from their reading, the kinds of academic activities that are useful for Advanced Placement and career experiences, Dr. Wentzell said.  Student improvement will stem from making sure they receive great instruction, she added.  “There’s no shortcut.”

Prior to becoming CT’s education commissioner, Dr. Wentzell served as the Hartford Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of Pre-K-12 education and also led the HPS transition to the Common Core beginning in 2010.

Bridging the Honesty Gap

The State’s transition to SBAC, now in its second year following adoption of the Common Core in 2010, also “bridges the honesty gap,” Dr. Wenzell told a packed room at the conference.  Connecticut’s previous State tests were developed prior to State standards and hence were not aligned to them, she explained.  “We had a 30-year record of lying to our families as to how their kids were being tested.  This is a movement to honesty.”

Indeed, “The previous assessments weren’t telling the complete story of grade-level readiness,” she said, adding that there was no great conspiracy; it was just the way things were done.

With the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, Yale panelists from Chicago and New Haven confirmed, predictably lower scores have inspired a backlash from parents and pundits critical of the tougher assessments.

“We must continue to communicate well that these are new standards,” Dr. Wentzell advised.  “This is a new baseline, a different approach, and the scores look different.”

“Persisting through difficulty is what education is all about,” Rhode Island Commissioner Wagner added.

CT students will take the SBAC through June and then the State will report baseline results later in the summer.