In his guest column of March 8, Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster praised the Smarter Balanced Assessment test and recommended that parents not opt-out. On those two points, the superintendent and I are in agreement and no one is more surprised, than I.

For decades, annual state-mandated standardized testing revealed the unpleasant failure of public education. Educators, upset and aligned in their opposition, explained the failures by complaining of testing faults, both real and imagined. Those complaints, frequently repeated, have infected parents who now wish to opt their children out of that assessment.

This smarter Balanced Assessment instrument, used to assess a student’s knowledge, is like the thermometer used to determine a child’s temperature and is neither harmful nor fearful. Parents who better understand the assessment may be less apprehensive.

My own understanding is that a student is asked a computer selected question, whose difficulty is mid-range in the subject and grade being assessed. If answered correctly, the computer then offers a more advanced question. If the first or any question is incorrectly answered, a less advanced or basic question is asked next.

The process continues with more advanced students answering more difficult questions and struggling students answering easier ones.

When the computer program has determined the student’s knowledge or ability, the test is concluded. The assessment results can and should be used to help students.


Strangely, the Superintendent, while embracing this assessment for its value in revealing student knowledge, doesn’t support its use in evaluating teachers. But, consider, when we assign a class of former third-grade students to a fourth-grade teacher, the expectation is that the teacher will, during the course of a school year, adequately prepare that class for the fifth grade.

Now, here’s the rub: if the assigned third graders are adequately prepared for the fourth grade, then the fourth grade teacher, if effective, will accomplish the objective. Conversely, if the fourth grade teacher is not effective — he/she won’t.

We must accept that there are both effective and ineffective teachers. Respected research states that an effective teacher may advance their class by a year and a half and that an ineffective teacher may retard a class by half a year.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Test could and should be used to assess and validate those third-grade students prior to their assignment to the fourth-grade teacher. It should also be used at the conclusion of their fourth grade to determine first, if the fourth-grade teacher was successful and, second, to evaluate how successful he/she was.

Since Smarter Balanced is a reliable instrument, shouldn’t it be employed to evaluate teacher effectiveness and thus advance and not retard students?

Richard Sabine, Lewiston

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