Area school district superintendents are excited about upcoming changes to standardized testing but are also looking at how it will affect their district's budget after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently presented testing recommendations to the governor and legislature.
Earlier this month Torlakson recommended shifting the test's focus in order for students to start thinking more critically, solve problems, and show a greater depth of knowledge -- all key tenants of the new Common Core State Standards. Instead of the traditional paper and pencil Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, schools will transition to computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
These changes would begin in the 2014/2015 school year and would eliminate testing from second grade students. Only grades three through eight will be tested and grade 11 instead of nine through 11. STAR testing is scheduled to end July 1, 2014. This is all part of bringing California's school system into alignment with Common Core State Standards. California is one of 45 states that has adopted these standards, moving towards uniform curriculum and standards across the nation.
"I am very excited about the increased focus on Common Core State Standards and sincerely believe that they will assist us in taking education 'to the next level,' in terms of preparing our students for life beyond school," said Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson. "I don't see CCSS as the polar opposite of the assessment system under STAR, but the next step in our growth."
Nelson said that in the past, schools have been so focused on test data with STAR testing that it left potential for "teaching to the test" instead of teaching how to function in life beyond school. The old system also focused more on only a few subjects while de-emphasizing others such as science and the arts. California students also could not be compared to other students across the country because states weren't using the same assessment.
"Common Core State Standards changes all of this," Nelson said. "It focuses on teaching kids not only to solve problems, but also to support why they feel their solution is the correct one. It forces them to explain their thinking. I think the public will be very surprised as to how high the bar is set for our kids to achieve."
However making these changes will affect instruction in the classroom. Glenn Reid, Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District superintendent, said teachers will need to double their efforts to train students to think much more than they have been with the current STAR assessments.
"In the long run, this is exactly the type of learning that we want our students to experience," Reid said. "In the real world, this is what employers expect from their employees -- that they can take knowledge and apply it in various situations to perform a task. The challenge schools will be facing is the transition period from the old way of doing things to the new way."
Yosemite Unified School District Superintendent Jim Sargent says most of his staff have already attended training for the new teaching approach.
"While making changes are always a challenge, teachers are very excited about the type of learning that will take place with the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessments," Sargent said.
Sargent went on to say that many teachers have felt that the current testing model places too much emphasis on a limited set of skills and does not assess all that the students have learned to do in their classes.
"There is no question the new Common Core will be challenging for students and will require new teaching strategies but I believe it will be very beneficial for students, especially in preparing them for post secondary success," Sargent said.
However these changes will have a potential impact on the budget in a number of ways. Sargent said there will be costs for professional development, new curriculum and for increased technology, as the testing is scheduled to be conducted online. Taking the tests online will allow students to receive their scores back much quicker than they currently are receiving them.
"The switch to CCSS and the Smarter Balanced Assessment is going to be a challenge for all of us, but the outcomes should result in a student population that is better prepared to meet the challenges of a world that is very different than it was when current adults were students," Reid said.
Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System can be found on the Statewide Pupil Assessment System Web page at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/ab250.asp.
More information on California's efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards can be found on the California Department of Education's Common Core State Standards web page at www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc