The Washington Post recently published a piece by Superintendent Thomas Scarice, who leads a school district much like the leafy Connecticut suburban town that I grew up in. In fact, I grew up in the town right next door, but I couldn’t disagree more with the superintendent’s piece. Here’s why.

I don’t remember writing my first paper in college, but I clearly remember the exact moment that I got back my grade on that paper.  It was for a poetry class and the professor had notoriously high standards. I couldn’t wait to see how I’d done. When he handed me the paper, there in the corner was a bold red “D.” It made my heart sink and my confidence plummet.

I asked myself: how could this be? I’d attended a “good” high school where I was a top student and got straight A’s on my papers and exams. I was always studious, often spending hours pouring myself into school work and papers like that one – fine tuning my analysis, checking my grammar and references several times before I turned it in. But my work didn’t meet a college standard.

It was an uncomfortable surprise to learn that I just wasn’t fully ready for college. I had great teachers. I had met every expectation and reached every goal they set for me. Yet, I got to college and found out that I lacked a few necessary skills that would be pivotal to my continued success. Fortunately, I had support from generous faculty who gave me their time and help, and from my family who reminded me I could rise to the challenge. With hard work and support, I caught up and graduated with high honors.

But that is not the case for everyone. My story pales in comparison to the countless stories I’ve heard from students who found out they weren’t ready when they graduated from high school. The fact is that 48 percent of students who enroll in Connecticut’s public colleges and universities require remedial courses, and more than 64 percent of minority, low-income or English Language learners need remedial coursework in college.

This is demoralizing for students, increases their likelihood of dropping out, and costs our state dearly. According to the National Bureau of Economic research we spend $7 billion on remedial college coursework annually. By the year 2020, 70 percent of Connecticut jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, but too few students, especially students of color are completing post-secondary coursework.

Less than a quarter of Connecticut’s low-income, African American or Hispanic students completed college in 2007, the most recent year for which data are publicly available.

These staggering figures show that we have a moral and economic imperative to help our children meet college and career-ready standards before they go on to post-secondary experiences. Students and families need to know that they will be ready for the challenges ahead if they meet the standards we set out for them now. We cannot let them wait until they leave high school to find out they’re not ready.

That’s where the state’s new Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) comes in.

The SBAC is an annual state test given in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and it’s based on globally benchmarked college and career-ready standards. With the results of these tests, educators, families and students will know how well they are progressing and whether they are prepared for success after high school. Students, schools or districts who are struggling can be identified early and given the help they need.

Results from the SBAC are an essential part of the data needed to ensure all kids get a great education and are ready for the challenges ahead. These results are certainly not the only data points that matter.  Students need to be able to count on school accomplishments and grades as well as a well-rounded, rich educational experience. That information needs to be rounded out and balanced by data collected from a standards-based test. Results from these tests are an essential piece of information to help students, educators and parents know how well students are doing compared to an objective and high standard.

We should be embracing such data, not disregarding it as Superintendent Scarice does.  Students and families in every corner of the state can benefit from knowing exactly where they stand and what they can do to improve so that children will be ready to innovate, compete and thrive in tomorrow’s workplace.

So let’s stop hyping up testing fears and myths and instead remember the intended purpose of the SBAC — giving us data we need to help our students succeed.

When the first round of SBAC results are revealed soon, I encourage us to embrace the data, rather than reject it. For the first time in years, we will have an accurate reference point on how our students are performing in regards to their college and career readiness.

The data from this baseline SBAC year offers us a moment where we can honestly see where our children stand and exert every effort into ensuring they’re on track for success.

Our children deserve an education they can count on. Disregarding standards-based data about how well they are doing, as Superintendent Scarice urges us to do, not only casts aside valuable information, but also puts our students at risk.

Today, I’m a parent. I want to know that my daughters will be ready for the challenges ahead of them; and I want to know this based, in part, on an objective, standards-based measure. Every year. I don’t want their first memory of college coursework to be like mine.

If we truly want our children to graduate from Connecticut high schools prepared to succeed, we must set rigorous standards, embrace data on student outcomes and progress, and do everything in our power to ensure they can meet those benchmarks, regardless of zip code, race or family income.

Jennifer Alexander is the chief executive officer of ConnCAN.

Leave a comment