New Statewide Testing System proposed
Less bubbles, more essays
Fewer multiple-choice questions and more critical-thinking essays — that’s what can be expected once the Common Core State Standards are implemented during the 2014-15 school year throughout California.
Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced recommendations Tuesday to shift the focus of standardized testing to a requirement for students to think critically, solve problems and show a greater depth of knowledge—key tenants of the new CCSS.
“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore, and it’s time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” Torlakson said.
The recommendations fundamentally change the state’s student-assessment system, replacing the paper-and-pencil based Standardized Testing and Reporting Program assessments with computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium starting in the 2014-15 school year. The tests will serve as models for high-quality teaching and learning, Torlakson said.
“The concept is simple but powerful; if our tests require students to think critically and solve problems to do well on test day, those same skills are much more likely to be taught in our classrooms day in and day out,” he said.
Though there are still a lot of unanswered questions, including how to efficiently implement the tests in an affordable and educational way, overall, the move is a good one, said Val Staley, assistant superintendent of instructional services, Porterville Unified School District.
“The test will be much more valuable and meaningful and fits well into our Linked Learning methods of problems and solving problems,” Staley said. “It’s a good move in terms of the focus of testing because it focuses more in terms of problem solving, rather than recalling information.”
Another benefit is some of the tests might be combined.
“Currently students take the STAR test. That has nothing to do with the high school exit exam,” she said. “Somehow they might be combining some of these tests in the future, providing tests that show where a student is while simultaneously meeting some of the exit requirements.”
In the meantime, PUSD is working on implementing the changes, she said.
At the Burton School District, administrators have been working on the implementation of CCSS for two years, specifically in language arts and mathematics in kindergarten and first grade, said Sharon Kamberg, deputy superintendent, Burton School District, with current first graders taking the test during the Spring of 2015 when they are in third grade.
“We felt this would assist in the transition. The second through 12th grades have implemented the writing this year, and we are identifying priority standards, aligning curriculum resources and training our staff for implementation next year in the area of math,” Kamberg said.
The Common Core Language Arts implementation for second to 12th grades will unfold in the 2014-15 school year.
“As for the SMARTER Balanced Assessment, we are very excited and [experiencing] trepidation about the change in assessments. The current standards focus on getting the right answer. The new assessments wants students to think about the different possible solutions and ways to solve problems,” Kamberg said. “This new performance task-based assessment will require lots of changes in the current way we prepare students for the assessment.”
Besides instructional changes, students need to be comfortable taking the assessments on computers, and the level of technology needed to support one-to-one computers for students to take the assessment has taken a front seat in conversations, Kamberg said.
However, the benefits outweigh concerns.
“The immediate results, promised to be anywhere from immediate to two weeks, are going to allow teachers to adjust instruction quickly before students are off for the summer,” she said.
Currently, the district does not receive results until August of the following year when the students have a new teacher.
“The test is said to be intuitive, which simply means it will adjust difficulty in content to match the students’ answers,” Kamberg said. “This will allow the student to continue to work on the assessment without becoming frustrated and giving up.”
The benefit is that it will offer teachers a more accurate picture of where the students have holes in their knowledge, Kamberg said.
“Although there are many questions and unknowns, Burton School District believes we are on the right track with the implementation of the CCSS and will embrace lots of professional development for our staff to prepare them for the changes ahead,” Kamberg said. “We will continue to focus on the Burton priorities of ‘Read, Write and Discuss;’ ‘Powerful Lesson Design; and ‘Engagement Structures,’ as we unfold our plan. Burton’s continued commitment to our program, people and professional development remain our mission.”
Torlakson’s report was mandated by Assembly Bill 250 (Brownley, D-Santa Monica), which the state superintendent sponsored, to bring school curriculum, instruction and the state assessment system into alignment with the CCSS. The state’s existing STAR Program assessments are scheduled to sunset July 1, 2014.
California is one of 45 states and three territories that formally have adopted the CCSS for mathematics and English language arts. The proposed revisions to align the state’s assessment system with the new standards mark a key milestone in implementing the common core. Visit www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/ab250.asp for a list of all the recommendations.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.