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Smarter Balance Consortium Threatens Education Autonomy

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) recently made an informed decision via Executive Order to remove his state from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Career (PARCC), one of two federally funded consortiums created to test the Common Core State Standards. Wyoming belongs to the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which is the nation’s other federally funded testing consortium. Wyoming needs to get smart and follow Florida’s example by dropping SBAC like a hot potato – and the sooner the better.

Until Gov. Scott’s order, Florida served as the fiscal agent for PARCC, meaning the state handled all the federal dollars that flowed into the consortium. Both testing consortiums are sustained solely by federal dollars. Whether another state will step up to take over Florida’s former role remains to be seen.

But what we do know is that Florida – the home of former Gov. Jeb Bush, a “conservative” peddling the Common Core scheme to states – has seen the light, and removed the Sunshine State from this federal boondoggle. That’s a major victory for all those supposedly ill-informed, misguided mothers and fathers fighting to get rid of the snake oil that both threatens to stifle their children’s individuality and abrogates parents’ rights to direct their children’s education.

Wyoming proponents of the Common Core Standards and SBAC however, parrot a plethora of reasons for supporting a national assessment; including that it lowers the costs of administering these tests, and the notion that participation in SBAC grants Wyoming a “seat at the table” in field testing these assessments, which is a good thing, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s start with cost. Wyoming, we are told, will save a ton of money if we shift to a national consortium to get our national test to test these national Common Core Standards. Who doesn’t like a bargain, right? But governors such as Rick Scott recognize that cost is not the main consideration when making a decision about high-stakes testing in his state. And, make no mistake about it, we are talking about high-stakes testing here, folks.

As pointed out by Gov. Scott, Florida already had been paying for high-stakes testing. Instead he directed his commissioner of education to ensure that any new tests be “in line with current assessment costs.” In other words, cost is not a concern – Wyoming, like Florida, has already been shouldering the cost, and when it comes to something with as much potential negative impact as high-stakes testing, going cheap isn’t always the best option.

This is especially relevant because Wyoming currently is building an internal accountability system that relies heavily on buy-in from teachers and educational leaders all over the state. Why would Wyoming build such a system while simultaneously depending on an out-of-state source to handle assessment scores that could change a Wyoming teacher’s or principal’s employment status? A source that does not give Wyoming stakeholders any voice in the test could lead to serious doubts about the integrity and suitability of the test results.

Going cheap also means giving up something far more valuable than money. It means sacrificing state autonomy.

But wait a minute, we are told Wyoming gets a “seat at the table” when it comes to the testing consortium. Okay, let’s do the math on the effectiveness of that “seat at the table,” shall we? Wyoming sits at this proverbial “table” with 22 other states, including California, Oregon, Michigan and Connecticut. In total the other states educate 18.9 million students compared to Wyoming’s 90,990 students. Our “seat at the table” is minuscule when we are but one of 22 other states at the table with only a single vote. We’ve thrown away our sovereignty and autonomy for a “seat at the table” filled with other states that have little to nothing in common with our students and the unique challenges of delivering education in Wyoming. Sounds like a bargain to me.

Finally, we hear that Smarter Balance will result in better tests that lead to less testing. So why can’t we make that commitment to the students of Wyoming without SBAC? Less testing and better testing is a function of educational policy changes at the legislative level. If the legislature commits to fewer tests and asks for smarter tests, Wyoming is perfectly capable of creating them without handing over the sole ownership of their development, field testing and delivery to a consensus of 22 other states.

The bottom line is simple. Wyoming should never give up the exclusive control of high-stakes testing – tied to student and teacher accountability – to a 23-state consortium. Wyoming should be smart enough to see that the latest shiny federal toy doesn’t work for Wyoming’s students. Gov. Mead needs to follow Gov. Scott’s lead in Florida by honoring the sovereignty and autonomy of our state. Otherwise, Wyoming is simply state #23 in a testing consortium filled with much bigger players.

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017
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