Feser says school system steadily improved on a number of measures

The following letter from School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser is in response to comments about time given to testing, and Milford’s academic performance.

To the Editor:

The subject of testing, for example, whether there is too much, has provided a stage for passionate dialogue over the last few years. Recently, a member of the public railed against the amount of testing in the schools, and suggested the school system is failing. I wish to share some facts tied to both issues.

First of all, formal testing of students has been a part of public education for more than 100 years. Many of us can remember taking the IQ test when we were in grammar school, or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the California Achievement Tests. None of these tests were used for accountability of schools and districts as they are today. They were used as measures of individual students.

Without question, there is more testing in schools today than 50 or even 20 years ago. The first major increase in testing in the last two decades stemmed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Legislation, which mandated that all students in grades 3-8 and a grade in high school be assessed in reading and math. Prior to NCLB, Connecticut’s Mastery Test (CMT) had been administered in only grades 4, 6 and 8 (and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in grade 10). Under NCLB, three more grades were added for testing.

Today, the federal mandate of annual testing still exists. In Connecticut, the CMT and CAPT have been replaced with the new Smarter Balanced Assessment, which tests students in math and in language arts, (reading, writing, listening/speaking and research). This mandated test is given in the spring and students spend approximately 7-9 hours in tests over the course of six or seven days.

The CMT and CAPT, and now the Smarter Balance Assessment, provide a single score in each tested area. While having some merit, it is a single measure in time. In Milford, we prefer to measure student growth over time. As a result, beyond federal/state testing, we administer other assessments annually. For example, Milford administers the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA 2) to K-5 students in the fall, winter and spring. The total student test time for the DRA 2, each time it is administered is 30 minutes, or 90 minutes over the course of the entire year.

In Milford, we also administer the Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress in grades K-10 in reading and K-8 in math. This standardized test is also given in the fall, winter and spring. The total amount of testing time differs depending on the student’s grade level, (30 to 60 minutes for each test), which typically amounts to students spending, over the course of the entire year, from 3 to 6 hours being tested.

Most importantly is why we give these tests, for example, both the DRA-2 and the NWEA. It is to measure student progress over time, (growth), the results of which are immediate and, therefore, so valuable to the classroom teacher in better meeting the needs of individual students. The results are also helpful to parents in knowing the progress of their child.

On September 28 we presented our annual report to the Board of Education on several assessments: DRA 2, NWEA, Smarter Balance Assessment, and CMT/CAPT Science. We also reported on student performance in the Advanced Placement program. In a recent letter to the editor, the author indicated that we did not meet the board goals connected to student performance. When looking only at the reports we delivered last Monday, it is true that some of the board goals were not met, but some were met.

More disturbingly, however, was the inference by the author that the schools are failing. This is simply not true, and such a characterization does an injustice to the students in the Milford Public Schools. The larger reality is that over the last five years, the school system has steadily improved on a number of measures: student growth measures, graduation rates, percent of students going on to 2- and 4-year colleges, percent of students accepted into and going on to top tier colleges, and more.

Continuous improvement if displayed as a line graph is not a straight trajectory. As Harvard University professor Richard Elmore stated, when speaking of continuous improvement in education, “The road is often not smooth, detour-free, and unchanging.” Clearly, there will be bumps along the way. Milford has relentlessly pursued a path of continuous improvement, and our work is showing us we are moving in the right direction. Are we where we want to be? “No,” but there are many indicators of success, which continue to propel us forward.

Elizabeth E. Feser, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools