A Bridgeport student takes a Smarter Balanced practice test. CtMirror.org file photo
A Bridgeport student takes a Smarter Balanced practice test
A Bridgeport student takes a Smarter Balanced practice test CtMirror.org file photo

The state’s new computerized standardized test sometimes begins asking children questions in Mandarin.

Elementary students are being served up questions on Beowulf.

And computers are crashing when students submit their test.

These are just some of the “pervasive problems” the state’s largest teachers’ union says teachers have reported to them with the new exams, called the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Numerous states have reported problems administering these Smarter Balanced tests, including Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

While the State Department of Education says the tests are going well, it has failed to disclose requests for help with the test sent to the department or its vendor-run help desk despite repeated requests from The Mirror over five weeks. The department says it is working with the vendor to respond to the request.

The department Wednesday afternoon did provide a one-page summary of the calls and emails received so far this year surrounding the test. It said the help desk had received 3,643 requests for help, of which nearly one-third dealt with password issues.

There have been 82 problems surrounding “restart/invalidations,” 213 complaints about a “session interruption,” 16 inquiries about “downloading or printing,” and six inquiries about “headset playback.”

“To provide context, the 3,643 inquiries represents less than a half percent of the 838,230 tests that have been started this year,” Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the education department said Wednesday.

“Large scale transitions are never without minor bumps in the road, but, overall, the direct feedback we have received from both educators and students has been positive, Donnelly said. “We will continue to listen and work with teachers, administrators, parents and students to help ensure our students are in the best position to succeed in college and careers.”

But officials at the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, say their survey of 1,144 teachers shows problems are widespread.

“It appears to be pervasive,” Ray Rossomando, a research and policy development specialist for CEA, said during a press conference at the state Capitol complex Wednesday. Half the teachers CEA surveyed reported the system had crashed and more than half reported login problems.

Because of all of these problems, CEA wants the state to join other states that have retreated from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

We need to take a step back, says Shelia Cohen, the president of the  state's largest teachers' union
“We need to take a step back,” says Shelia Cohen, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union CTMirror.org
“We need to take a step back,” says Shelia Cohen, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union CTMirror.org

“We need to take a step back,” said Shelia Cohen, president of the union.

Union leaders also want the state to set up a panel to study using different assessments.

But the state is backing the current assessment.

“Tests are essential tools that help educators know whether students need help or if they should be accelerated,” Donnelly said. The Smarter Balanced assessment also provides parents with perspective on their child’s progress toward meeting grade-level learning expectations, she said.

“This statewide assessment also provides the state with critical information to help direct additional resources and help to those schools and districts that need it the most,” Donnelly said.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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