Local News

New Common Core academic standards usher in new testing system

By From page A6 | August 06, 2014

Preparing students for a constantly evolving world by teaching them not only facts, but also critical-thinking skills, continues to be major goal of Davis schools.

As the new academic year gets underway, the Davis school district continues its implementation of the California Common Core standards. The Common Core is a set of unified expectations defining what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should be able to do in each grade in preparation for college and the workforce.

Common Core standards exist in math and English language arts (writing and reading).

This year, all elementary students will be assessed on their progress toward Common Core standards in English language arts and math. The district also is continuing with the implementation of the standards in both subjects at the junior high schools and in a variety of courses and disciplines at the high school level.

“This is an exciting time in education as we witness the implementation of the Common Core,” said Clark Bryant, associate superintendent of instructional services. “Through these standards, students learn with a clear focus on the key knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for the challenges of a constantly changing world. Students are asked to show evidence of their thought process and their solutions.”

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium update

With new standards come new tests. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires statewide accountability tests to be given annually to third- through eighth-graders and 11th-graders. Smarter Balanced is one of two federally funded multi-state consortia that created Common Core-aligned tests for math and English language arts.

The tests were field-tested on computers by an estimated 4 million students across the country this past spring. The Davis district saw field-testing in third through 11th grades. Field-testing means testing the tests, not testing the students, and results during the field test were not used to grade students or evaluate school performance.

Smarter Balanced tests are administered on the computer, allowing for early results and more items that go beyond standard multiple-choice questions. Eventually, the tests will be “computer-adaptive,” meaning the combination of questions varies based on student responses, which is meant to provide a more precise idea of each student’s strength and weaknesses.

The Davis school district purchased computers and upgraded connectivity for the field-testing. As with the transition to new tests, reaction was mixed.

“We know that students and staff learned a lot last spring, from the overall administration needs of the assessments to a deeper understanding of the academic and technical skill requirements for students to effectively participate in the testing,” Bryant said.

“We are waiting on results of surveys from Sacramento County Office of Education that will help us understand what changes we might need to make.”

With the student test scores counting next spring, the school district will be looking closely at what it needs to have in place to get students prepared.

Community members may be wondering if test scores will drop. There has been evidence of this in New York and other states that have gone through this process before California.

“We should not be alarmed if these test scores drop,” said Stephanie Gregson, the district’s new director of curriculum assessment and learning. “Scores (on the new tests) should not be seen as a reflection on the district, schools and teachers, but as a baseline to measure the student’s college and career readiness going forward.”

Enterprise staff

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