“I, Jack Markell, do proudly swear to carry out the responsibilities of the office of Governor to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.” –from the Delaware Oath of Office for all publicly elected officials
Yesterday, Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education made a grandstand announcement about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors. They forgot many things in their hasty announcement. There are important and crucial reasons why this is not what it appears to be and actually violates many state and federal laws.
- The SAT went through a “redesign” to make it tied to the Common Core standards. This is not the same SAT high school juniors took last year. Delaware already has horrible scores on the SAT. With the scores based on Smarter Balanced already showing less than half of Delaware students were proficient, expect those scores to plunge even lower on the SAT.
- House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Delaware explicitly states that “(j) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.” Since the State Board of Education did not vote on this, nor have they even had this as a discussion item on their agenda, Governor Markell broke Delaware law. The State Board would not be able to vote on this until their February State Board meeting at the earliest. By giving the Secretary full authority on this issue, Markell is in violation of his oath of office.
- There is no fiscal note for this unlawful change as well. The funding for giving the SAT to all high school juniors in Delaware was part of the Race To The Top grant. Those funds are now expired. With the SAT at $90.00 or more, who is going to pay for this assessment? Assuming there are roughly 10,000 high school juniors in Delaware, that price tag is now $900,000.00.
- As Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brilliantly pointed out yesterday, “Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?”
- Over the summer, Governor Markell spoke to an audience at an education “think tank” called New America. He stated “Smarter Balanced is the best test Delaware ever made.” Why is he replacing “the best test Delaware ever made” with the SAT? Is Smarter Balanced no longer the “best test Delaware ever made?”
- By far, the biggest mistake Markell and the DOE made in their haste to push this through was their complete ignorance of students with disabilities who have to take the SAT. As per Title 14, § 151, (f) ”The Department shall establish alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in the statewide assessment of student achievement even with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Alternate assessments must be developed and used in the statewide assessment beginning not later than the 2010-2011 school year. Each local school district, through the individual student’s Individualized Education Program Team or 504 Team, shall determine what assessment the student will take, as well as the student’s matriculation or promotion status and necessary remedial activities if the student’s performance on the assessment is below standard, and if the statewide assessment is administered, what accommodations and/or modifications will be utilized. However, no student shall be denied the opportunity to take the state assessments administered pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of this section.” Since the decision was made to begin this in the spring of this year, has the Governor and the DOE assured students with disabilities that the accommodations offered on the SAT will be the exact same ones offered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium? According to the College Board website, the process for accommodations on the SAT for students with disabilities is completely different. At a minimum, the Governor and the Delaware Department of Education have now broken IDEA law (more on this below).
- With a letter from 10 Democrats, and not an actual resolution or bill passed by the General Assembly, Governor Markell has circumvented the legislative process. House Bill 334 specifically states the purpose of the legislation was to transition Delaware from DCAS to Smarter Balanced. Without an executive order, Governor Markell usurped the authority of the General Assembly and their ability to make laws in Delaware. Since he signed the law, he has broken it. “This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments.”
In terms of accommodations for students with disabilities on the SAT, it is a minimum of a seven-week process. The deadline to submit this application, along with consent from the student’s parent, for the March 5th test is January 15th, for the May 7th test it is March 16th, and for the June 4th test it is April 15th. This will mean that all IEP teams will need to meet to determine what accommodations students with disabilities will need for the SAT test. What happens if the College Board won’t accept all the accommodations students received for the Smarter Balanced Assessment? According to the College Board website, sending an IEP or a doctor’s note is not sufficient by itself. If Delaware State Code specifically states the IEP team decides on the accommodations but they are now subject to College Board approval, how does this even work? In looking at the College Board website, they also ask for a great deal of personal student information including doctor evaluations and any medicine students take. I don’t believe this is written in Delaware State Code. The Governor and the DOE are seriously putting Delaware at great risk of potential litigation with this action. In addition to IDEA federal law, there are also serious questions concerning private student data, FERPA, and basic civil rights for students with disabilities.
While Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky brought up working through the accommodations issue, he is not looking at the big picture at all. In a letter sent to Delaware educators this morning, Godowsky failed to bring up many of the points I have made concerning actual laws his Department and the Governor have broken with this decision.
Message from the Secretary of Education
- Two sections (plus an essay): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math
- A focus on the math that matters most for college and career
- A move away from obscure vocabulary to the use of relevant words in context
- The elimination of the guessing penalty