Did you know that STAR testing, (the CA State mandated standardized test) is going the way of the dinosaur? Last Tuesday, SFUSD was granted a waiver (along with 8 other CA districts: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger.) According to an Education Week article: these districts “grew impatient with the pace of change their state was setting as it moves toward implementing the common core, and decided to band together to work on a shared approach to schooling.” Instead of waiting for the federal government to redefine accountability measures for the new national and state standards, they joined together to form CORE (California Office to Reform Education) to advocate a tighter approach to accountability than California envisions this year. (The state will eventually drop most of its current assessment system in favor of Smarter Balanced field tests this spring.)

In an article posted on U.S. News and World Report:

The Department of Education issued a first-of-its-kind waiver on Tuesday that will allow eight California school districts to circumvent key requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. The department granted the districts, which together serve more than 1 million students, a one-year waiver from NCLB’s accountability measures, such as a requirement that schools must bring their students to proficient levels in reading and math by the end of the coming school year.

Read more about the waiver and shift to new accountability measures here and here.

All of this news is really exciting because it means that instead of putting time and resources into administering the STAR tests in English and math (based on the old CA standards), our district will be able to focus its efforts on preparing teachers and students for the NEW CCSS standards and Smarter Balanced Assessment this spring. Students won’t get over-tested, and teachers and schools won’t be penalized while our state tries out the next-generation assessment. Finally, there will be no reporting on this field test of the new assessment. That means that teachers and schools won’t be penalized while everyone tries out the new test. As a parent, I will miss seeing my daughters’ assessment report this time around. Nonetheless, I am happy that teachers, administrators and students won’t feel the pressure of “accountability” as we all try out this new assessment.

What Parents and Educators Need to Know About the New Assessments

The New Smarter Balanced Assessments are nothing like the old STAR tests. Here are three main ways that they are different:

The new test will be computer-based, computer-adaptive.

The new test will be computer-based which will allow it to be scored quickly and more easily. It will also allow the test to be computer-adaptive. That is to say that how students answer questions, determines the subsequent questions they are presented with. If you get a problem right, you will get a harder question next. If you get a question wrong, you will get an easier question next. This allows the test more accurate assess student learning, while presenting students with less questions overall.

Finally, computer-based testing also allows testing to be more inclusive for students receiving special education services as well as English Language Learners. Examples of modifications and accommodations might include: allowing students to use a digital notepad, or provide students with translated pop-up glossaries, etc.

The new test will be on the new standards.

I firmly believe the new standards are way better than the old. I’ve written a previous post on the math standards. Not only are the new standards more comprehensive and challenging than the old standards, they also include conceptual understanding, critical thinking and writing skills. For these reasons, there is some concern that student performance may initially go down, even among “high-performing” students. But if we are assessing what’s really important (student thinking) as opposed to memorization of discrete facts, I think it will be well worth it. If you were not a fan of previous standardized tests, you may change your mind with the new test.

The new test will be go beyond multiple choice.

Any anti-standardized testing parents or educators can be happy that the new tests are designed to measure critical thinking and won’t allow students to guess or choose by elimination. Multiple choice items will be replaced by selected response items which allow students to select not just one from four choices, but one or more from a set of options. (See example, left.)

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Technology enhanced items allow students to answer questions using computer technology. Examples of these types of items could be questions that ask students to dragging and drop, highlight text, or draw lines.

 

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In addition to selected response items, the new assessment will also include constructed response items, which ask students to explain their thinking about an answer. These types of questions don’t allow students to guess. Examples of these types of questions include writing an math equation based on a presented word problems or identifying key points in an reading.

Performance tasks are multi-step questions which assess multi-standards and ask students to use critical thinking and problem-solving to solve and explain their answers.
Finally, students will also be asked to do performance tasks, which according to Smarter Balanced, “measure a student’s ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards” Performance tasks can measure depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items. Performance tasks are multi-step questions which assess multi-standards and ask students to use critical thinking and problem-solving to solve and explain their answers. They often demonstrate research skills and often ask students to synthesis and analysis more than one piece of information. A great example of this type of task would be for students to read two articles with opposing viewpoints and then write an essay outline identifying key points from both articles to make a claim. Powerful stuff! Because of the nature of these types of assessments, performance tasks are usually hand-scored by professionally trained readers.mance tasks which ask students to think and write… WOW! In the example on the right, students are asked to read a passage, “Grandma Ruth” and answer the question: “What does Naomi learn about Grandma Ruth? Use details from the text to support your answer.”

Interested in learning more?

Click the links more information about the new assessment system:

What questions do you have about the field test or new assessment?

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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