New Generation Assessments Set to Launch


California Schools Set to Launch Trial Run of New Generation of Assessments 

            LOS ANGELES—The Smarter Balanced Field Test will launch Tuesday, marking an important milestone in California’s transition to a new assessment system as it assesses technological capacity and the quality of test questions, and helps students and teachers prepare for next year’s first operational test, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

“Over the next three months, students, teachers, and administrators will gain valuable hands-on experience in a new era of student assessments,” Torlakson said. “With more than three million students participating, this is the largest field test of its kind in the nation. It is a challenging transformation, but our schools are rising to that challenge with a great sense of excitement and determination.”

Field testing begins Tuesday and runs through June 6. By the end, more than three million students in school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will have had a chance to try the new system.

This “test of the test” will serve multiple purposes—foremost gauging the accuracy and fairness of the test questions ahead of the new assessments becoming operational next year. Across the nation, more than 20,000 assessment questions and performance tasks will be evaluated to determine which work well and which need to be improved. Test questions are aligned with the Common Core State Standards adopted by California in 2010 to encourage critical thinking, complex problem solving, and deeper knowledge of subjects.

“I am particularly interested in hearing teachers’ views on the questions and their appropriateness for the students they work with every day,” Torlakson said.

The field test also serves as a barometer of technology capability, allowing the state and local educational agencies to assess computer availability and server capacity to prepare for the new testing in spring 2015. Furthermore, teachers will be able to observe the computer savviness of their students.

“This field test gives us the opportunity to prepare our students for success,” Torlakson said. “The STAR program served us well for years, but the world has changed, and our schools also have to change the way they teach and test their students.”

The field test, which will cover English-language arts and mathematics, will take place between March 25 and June 6, with districts testing within assigned six-week windows during this timeframe. All students in grades three through eight will participate, as well as a sample of students in grades nine and ten and most eleventh graders.

The test will be about 3½ hours long, and no paper and pencil version will be offered during the field test. There will be no student, school, or district scores produced from this administration of the assessment.

Additional information may be found on the California Department of Education Spring 2014 Smarter Balanced Field Test Web page.


No API Until 2016 for California



(Repost via) Faced with a complete sea change of its K-12 education system and having been relieved of its duty to meet some federal accountability requirements, the State Board of Education on Thursday temporarily suspended its school performance measurement tool known as the API.

As a result of this decision, no Academic Performance Index scores – used to indicate how a school’s students are performing on standardized tests – will be calculated for the next two years.

The move was deemed necessary by both state education officials and law makers to pave the way for California’s transition to Common Core academic standards and a new assessment system set to be field tested this spring by students in grades 3-8 and 11.

“This is an opportunity for schools and districts to really focus on what they need to be focusing on and they don’t need to worry about this,” Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education, told board of education members.

Some 45 states adopted new Common Core standards in English and math more than two years ago and are in varying stages of rolling out new curriculum in schools based on those standards. In addition, many of those states joined one of two groups to design and produce new assessments aligned with the standards; California is a member and lead partner of the Smarter Balanced consortium, which has created a computer adaptive testing model to replace the state’s former Standardized Assessment and Reporting System, or STAR.

While hundreds of thousands of school children will participate in field testing of the new assessments, known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress or CAASPP, the data gathered this spring will not be used to score pupil performance. Instead, it will be used by the Smarter Balanced group to further refine the assessments and to set benchmarks for student achievement in preparation for the 2015 official spring testing launch.

Results of the 2015 CAASPP will then be used to calculate a new base API, and 2016 results will provide the information needed to determine student achievement, or growth API.

In the meantime, state officials will continue their work on reformatting the high school API to include not only CAASSPP and California High School Exit Exam results but other indicators of success as well including graduation rates.

California’s decision to eliminate STAR – based on the standards being replaced by Common Core – and perform a trial run of the new system this spring had drawn the ire of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who threatened to withhold federal funds if the state failed to comply with the law and produce annual accountability scores based on the API.

But late last week, Duncan’s department signed off on the state’s request to waive portions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, eliminating what would have amounted to a requirement to “double test” students as well as the threat of running afoul of the law.

(This is a repost from the Cabinet Report)


Access, Equity, and Common Core: GEAR UP Forums

jorge aguilar

California GEAR UP concluded their 2014 state-wide Leadership Forums with the theme “Social Justice and Equity: Common Core State Standards”.  Jorge Aguilar (pictured above) Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational and Community Partnerships at the University of California, Merced was the keynote speaker. His lecture was focused on ‘Advancing the Golden Rule Through Common Core State Standards’, which looked at the opportunity and obligation provided  by the common core state standards centered around  the notion that we will be able to measure  “college and career” readiness  through grade level assessments. His key question was: “How do we measure  whether ALL  students benefit from this policy shift?” You can view his entire presentation on our website here.

The forum was broken in to workshops for school leadership teams to attend. Forum workshop leaders brought relevant expertise and/or practical experience in specific areas of the Common Core State Standards, as well as an understanding of the work of California GEAR UP, grounded in the belief of social justice and equity in education. Workshops explored the connections between social justice and equity and the effective implementation of the CCSS in Mathematics, English Language Arts, or the development of critical thinking through the Arts. How do we teach ALL students to think critically– including low and under-performing students who may not have been exposed to high academic demands in the past? How will their learning needs be supported?

Workshop sessions were design to be participatory and interactive–not merely PowerPoint presentations. Participants engaged in activities and conversation. The workshop leaders facilitated dialogue among participants using a variety of strategies to promote thinking and “talk” to understand. GEAR UP Coaches as co-facilitators assisted the workshop leaders and sessions included time to answer questions from the audience and respond to guiding questions posed to the participants by the group leaders.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their third year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.


SAT Redesigns Admissions Test, Drops Essay


Creators of the SAT exam announced plans Wednesday to toughen the test in the face of stagnant national scores, planning to challenge students to provide more analysis, cite evidence and even turn in their calculators before answering some math questions. The new version will be first administered in 2016.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” said David Coleman, president of the non-profit College Board, which produces the SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Skeptics questioned whether a new format will be any more successful than previous efforts to use the standardized test in a campaign for college access, in part because the test’s scores historically have correlated with family income. They also point out that the 88-year-old SAT in recent years has slipped behind the rival ACT — a shorter exam with an optional essay — in total student customers.

Through the revisions, the College Board aims to strip many of the tricks out of a test now taken by more than 1.5 million students in each year’s graduating high school class. The College Board also pledged to offer new test-preparation tutorials for free online, enabling students to bypass pricey SAT-prep classes previously available mostly to affluent families looking to give their children an edge.

But in the redesign will be “SAT words” that have long prompted anxious students to cram with flashcards, as the test will now focus on vocabulary words that are widely used in college and career. The College Board hasn’t yet cited examples of words deemed too obscure, but “punctilious,” “phlegmatic” and “occlusion” are three tough ones in an official study guide.

Out, too, will be a much-reviled rule that deducts a quarter-point for each wrong answer to multiple-choice questions, deterring random guesses. Also gone: The 2400-point scale begun nine years ago with the debut of the required essay. The essay will become optional.

Back will be one of the iconic numbers of 20th-century America: The perfect SAT score, crystalline without a comma, returns to 1600.

Coleman, head of the College Board since fall 2012, previously was a key figure in the development of the new Common Core State Standards. Those standards, which set national expectations for what students should learn in math and English from kindergarten through 12th grade, have been fully adopted in 45 states and the District. Coleman’s vision for the SAT, with emphasis on analysis of texts from a range of disciplines as well as key math and language concepts, appears to echo the philosophy underlying the Common Core and could help the test track more closely with what students are learning in the nation’s classrooms.

Whether the College Board can break the link between test scores and economic class is the subject of much debate. Critics complained that too little time was given for essay revisions and that assignments did not reflect the level of analysis expected in college. Some college admissions officers also were lukewarm.

“As a predictor of student success, a 25-minute essay isn’t going to tell us a great deal,” said Stephen J. Handel, associate vice president of undergraduate admissions for the University of California.

And in recent years, more and more students were gravitating toward the rival ACT exam. The SAT has long been dominant on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in the Washington region. The ACT, launched in 1959 and overseen by an organization based in Iowa, attracts more students in the middle of the country and the South.

The two tests overlap in mission but diverge in style and content, with the ACT traditionally measuring achievement (including a science section) and the SAT measuring thinking skills. But the ACT has made inroads on the SAT’s turf, and many students now take both. In 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in the number of reported test-takers.

ACT President Jon L. Erickson said he was “a little underwhelmed” by the College Board’s announcement. “I appreciate and I’m glad they’re fixing their acknowledged flaws in their test,” he said.

Both exams also are facing challenges from the growing test-optional movement. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists about 800 colleges and universities that admit a substantial number of undergraduates without requiring them to submit SAT or ACT scores.


Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators

SACRAMENTO—Educators across California, from those who work with the state’s youngest learners to those in high school classrooms, can use several free online professional development tools created by the California Department of Education (CDE), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

The CDE is continuing to develop these resources as the state asks its educators to re-emphasize college and career readiness for their students. A series of Professional Learning Modules (PLMs), for example, is designed to help teachers implement the Common Core State Standards. Each of the 13 modules focuses on a single subject, such as Getting Started with the California English Language Development Standards, which provides guidance to teachers so they can provide a world-class education for English learners. The PLMs were developed in collaboration with county offices of education, the state subject-matter projects, and WestEd and are available on the Brokers of Expertise Web site at no cost.

“We are working to support our teachers with professional learning as they work to support their students with lessons and activities that prepare them for the real world,” Torlakson said. “From the earliest years through graduation, California’s children and teachers deserve to have the tools they need to succeed.”

The modules were intended to be used by educators independently, in collaborative groups, or as a face-to-face presentation. For instance, the online professional learning resource for English Language Development (ELD) Standards offers self-guided or face-to-face training for educators in how to use the ELD standards in tandem with the Common Core State Standards. Other modules include CCSS Mathematics: K-8 Learning ProgressionsCCSS: Literacy in Science, and also an Overview of the Common Core State Standards for California Educators.

Torlakson also unveiled a new Web-based professional development resource called the Early Childhood Educator Competencies Self-Assessment Toolkit (ECE CompSAT) to help hone the skills of early childhood teachers, aides, and directors of programs serving very young children.

“By investing in our children earlier in life, we reap the benefits of a better educated, more productive workforce, and a healthier state in the future,” Torlakson said. “We do that by also investing in early childhood educators to ensure they have the skills and the support they need to prepare our children for school.”

Early childhood educators can use the free ECE CompSAT to consider their everyday practices, examine what they can do, and what skills they should develop. The ECE CompSAT is an interactive Web site with 100 pages of information and nine hours of streaming video that viewers can use to assess their skills in multiple areas. The ECE CompSAT is based on a 2011 CDE publication found on the California Early Childhood Educator Competencies Web page.

The ECE CompSAT was a project of the Governor’s State Advisory Council for Early Learning and Care. This project was completed with the help of California State University-Fresno, WestEd, and the CDE’s Early Education and Support Division and Technology Services Division. It was also a component of CDE’s award of a federal Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grant to develop and support systems to rate and improve early learning programs so parents can make the best choices for their children.

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