By Ann Marie Mulready, Ph.D.
For literacy professionals, the most important development at the Connecticut State Board of Education (CSBE/SBE) this year is the K-3 State-wide Reading Plan. The plan is required by Public Act 12-116, An Act Concerning Education Reform, and requires monitoring at the beginning, middle, and end of the year of all K-3 students with instruments that measure phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
In March, 2014, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE/SDE) conducted a round table review of the proposed K-3 plan. Several members of the CARR Board, including Agnes Burns, our president, attended those sessions and expressed concerns regarding the outcomes of the meetings.
In response to these concerns, Aggie Burns, Dr. Darcy Fiano, our dissertation prize recipient, and I addressed the Connecticut State Board of Education (CSBE) over the course of the April, May and June meetings.
In summary, we pointed to,
- The over-representation of code-based instruments
- The lack of attention to oral language development
- The necessity for integrating foundational skills at the earliest point as opposed to isolating those skills as many of the proposed instruments do
- The failure to distinguish more highly validated instruments from weaker instruments
- The lack of a definition of reading by the state. Without a clear definition, instruction tends to flow from the elements of the assessment
The SDE presented a list of 19 assessment instruments in May, though the final recommendation limited that number to 7. At this point, the Observation Survey (Clay) is not included as it was on the first draft of the plan. This is despite the fact that the United States Department of Education (USDE) afforded it the highest technical ratings of any of the included assessments. The DIBELs was included despite the USDE reporting its validity as “partially convincing” and the Office of the Inspector General objecting to the “clear conflicts of interest of those who were charged with validation,” and evidence that the companion program produced a large negative effect on comprehension.
The other recommended instruments are AIMSweb Tests of Early Literacy or Reading, mCLASS with DIBELS Next, Edcheckup, STEEP, NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), and STAR.
The SDE could not recommend a vocabulary assessment given the lack of an instrument that can measure vocabulary achievement in a standardized, efficient fashion. And comprehension is not directly tested, again due to a lack of availability of an efficient, standardized measure.
The Reading Plan policy also provides for a transition period from the use of the DRA2 as a screen for the 2014-2015 school year, a change in exit criteria for K-3 English Learners (ELs), assessing students in dual language programs, an assessment reporting table to be submitted to the CSDE, and a biennial, open review period. While priority districts are mandated to report the number of students who are performing below the cut point, other systems are not held to the same reporting requirement.
Lastly, the use of the mandated screening instruments does not preclude the use of other diagnostic measures, including the DRA2. They may be used in addition to the mandated instruments.
The most critical issue for the last legislative session has been the reports on and initiation of investigations of the FUSE charter organization that is responsible for Jumoke Academy/Milner School in Hartford, and the Dunbar School in Bridgeport. Commissioner Pryor directed the Department staff to review the existing rules concerning oversight, public transparency, completion and reporting of background checks, and student performance and equity in all charter schools.
Commissioner Pryor also reported the work of the Common Core Task Force. The Task Force has five recommendations:
- Develop clear and consistent knowledge of CCSS at the classroom, school, district and state level;
- Provide the necessary support and training to effectively transition the CCSS into district defined curricula;
- Support all teachers and instructional staff in developing the capacity to master the instructional shifts that the standards necessitate;
- Engage all stakeholders in a rich dialogue regarding the CCSS;
- Provide the necessary resources to support effective implementation of the CCSS across all state districts.
The Commissioner is being asked to allocate $2 million to fund special training days for teachers, and to create a grant advisory committee to formulate mini grants for teachers and parents to develop CC aligned resources in the classroom and community.
The SBE also approved adoption of Praxis II for new cut scores for certification in Middle School English Language Arts, English Language Arts: Content and Analysis, and Mathematics Content Knowledge. Further, the cut score for certification in the ELA was raised from 168 to 173 on a 200 point scale, one conditional standard of error above the multi-state standard. The availability of candidates in the ELA was cited as the rationale. A position statement regarding Social Studies education has also been adopted.
A Final Note
It is incumbent upon all of us as literacy professionals to remain informed regarding literacy policy at the state and national levels and to observe the outcomes of those policies. The unquestioned emphasis on fluency by NCLB is an example. The speed and low cost with which fluency can be measured has resulted in a great deal of student time spent developing rapid reading as an end in itself. The rationale from the instrument developers for this has been that there is a correlation to word recognition, automaticity, and comprehension. But the question has not been asked about whether the observed comprehension, dependent on oral language development and background, is in fact the condition that is supporting the fluency. Further, the measures do not incorporate the other elements of fluency—prosody, expression, and appropriateness—that are essential to its use as a comprehension support. These are the questions that organizations like CARR can ask. We are all volunteers and are beholden only to our members and our mission. This makes your support of the organization vital to continuing the work. To that end, we may request information in the coming months on your districts’ use of the tests listed above. And now more than ever, renewal of your membership is essential to accomplishing the CARR mission.