Thursday, April 16, 2015

Preparing for new assessments for students in grades 3-8, 11

Beginning this month, San Diego Unified students in grades 3 through 8, along with those in grade 11, will join students across California in taking new online assessments that will serve as an additional tool to identify how prepared our students will be for college and careers by the time they graduate.

Boy at Computer Since the things we want students to know and be able to do have changed, state assessments have had to change as well.

These new measures, named "Smarter Balanced" assessments or tests, are aligned with our new Common Core State Standards, which were designed to encourage critical thinking, analytical writing and real-world problem solving. These are skills students will need to be successful in school and in life.

Moving forward, the new assessments will provide more information quicker, allowing educators more time to plan professional development and fine-tune curriculum. Interim assessments can be used by teachers throughout the year to monitor student progress and identify specific student learning needs.

The new assessments were created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a collaborative, state-led group comprised of educators, researchers, policymakers and community groups. These assessments are a tool in a larger plan for ensuring high-quality teaching and learning in every school. The plan also includes higher academic standards, more decision-making in the hands of schools and communities, and more resources dedicated to schools and students with the greatest needs.

How Can Parents Help Prepare Children for the New Assessments?

Learning doesn’t end in the classroom, and parents can help provide support and a home environment that will help children succeed at school.

With new academic standards for English and math and new assessments aligned with them, it’s more important than ever for parents and schools to partner to make the most of students’ time in the classroom.

There are a number of ways parents can help students prepare for these new assessments.

A good start is to run through one of the practice tests available on with children and ask them to explain their reasoning as they select answers.

To encourage children to think critically as called for in the new standards, parents can ask their children to analyze whatever they are reading and to back their answers up with information from the book.

Other strategies that can be helpful, depending on a child’s age, include reading to them or encouraging them to read, discussing their day at school, playing word games, helping them understand academic vocabulary, setting high expectations, focusing on the process rather than the answer, encouraging them to see math in the real world and asking them to explain why they think a certain answer is correct.

Helping children learn important computer skills such as typing and mouse control can also help them navigate the online assessments.

More fundamentally, it’s important to have a space and schedule that are conducive to learning. This can be accomplished by creating a quiet place for your child to study; setting aside uninterrupted time every day for your child to concentrate on reading, writing and math; and sitting down with your child at least once a week for 15 to 30 minutes while he or she works on homework. During the actual testing period, make sure your child gets plenty of sleep and eats a healthy breakfast.

What Will the New Assessments Look Like for Students?
The exams will be completely online and feature a variety of different types of questions. There will be fewer multiple-choice questions and more short answers and extended responses that will require a deeper understanding of key concepts. The computer-based testing will include embedded supports that will give all students the opportunity to fully demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of the state standards.

After logging on to a computer, students will answer questions of the two-part assessment in clusters. Students will be able to flag and return to questions they weren’t sure about.

There will be about 60 questions in the first part of the assessment. Depending on whether students answer the questions correctly or not, the test will adjust with easier or more difficult questions.

Students will then take the second part of the assessment. This portion includes the performance tasks, which will require students to complete more in-depth projects that demonstrate analytical skills and real-world problem solving. This portion will typically be given over a two-day period.

The English portion is expected to take a total of between four and 4 ½ hours, depending on grade level, and the math portion is expected to take between three and four hours over the course of a few days.

Universal tools, designated supports and accommodations are available to students with disabilities, English learners and other students as needed.

What Will the New Results Look Like?
When parents get results from the new statewide academic assessments, they will look very different from the results of the past.

Within a couple months of students taking the new online assessments, parents are expected to get printed copies of the results. Online reports may also be available.

These printouts will include scores presented in a totally new way. Students will receive an overall score as well as placement in one of four tiers: “standard exceeded,” “standard met,” “standard nearly met,” or “standard not met.”

The new assessments are aligned with new, more rigorous content standards in English and math, raising the bar for all students and requiring a deeper understanding of key concepts.

Considering the increased rigor, it should not be surprising if fewer students score within the top tiers on the testing spectrum. This does not mean that students have fallen behind or learned less. It simply means that we’re expecting more from them and aligning what’s being taught in the classroom with what they will need to know and be able to do when entering college or the workforce.

The new assessments are fundamentally too different from the old exams to make any reliable comparisons between scores from previous assessments and new scores. Rather, this year’s results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.

The results from these assessments are only one source of information we will be using to monitor student progress. Teachers will also gather other valuable information about each student’s learning through classroom assessment and daily student work.

A letter from Superintendent Cindy Marten has been sent to all of our families, advising families about the new Smarter Balanced testing and the role the test plays in the wider set of assessments used to monitor student performance. (View the letter here)

For more information about the assessments, visit our Testing website or the California Department of Education’s CAASPP website.