With big curriculum changes and new tests officially being implemented next year, every school district in the state is running field tests of the exams in upcoming weeks.
The fresh Common Core Standards shift to more team collaborative learning and technology in the classroom. There is also the new computer-based Smarter Balanced Assessments, which aligns with these new standards, that will go into effect during the 2014-15 school year. Since 1998, California school districts had spent a significant amount of time preparing for Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, tests. Field testing can run between March 18 and 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.
The San Mateo Union High School district will begin its six-week testing trial April 7. All its schools’ 11th-graders will take the test, but only Aragon, San Mateo and Hillsdale high schools have been selected for a scientific sample of the tests. Tenth-graders at Hillsdale will also take the tests. Schools will assigned content areas for tests in English, math or both.
“This is the dress rehearsal,” said Cynthia Clark, director of curriculum and assessment for the district. “We’ll test bandwidth, make sure network infrastructure works and figure out what types of computers are best. It’s a great opportunity to find out where the glitches are and where challenges are.”
Students and teachers won’t find out results for the tests, but rather will see how the process went. They will take survey questions and participate in informal focus groups. The San Mateo County Office of Education is preparing sample online surveys for administrators, teachers and students.
Nancy Magee, administrator for board support and community relations at the county Office of Education, said the reason for the surveys is this year’s test is really a test of the test.
“School districts have not gone through this particular process before, so they were asking us, and we agreed there should probably be a thoughtful, reflective process that’s applicable across the county for everybody to weigh in to measure the effectiveness of the process itself,” she said. “One impact of the field tests is all districts are going to be taking it and all will be administered on a digital device, meaning in San Mateo County there will be no pencil and paper tests. … Some districts have had to go out and purchase tech to support the tests and we’re hoping that tech will also then be part of the everyday instructional tools of teachers and their classes.”
The economic situation of the past 10 years has been so dire that districts had no choice but to go without new tech devices, Magee said.
“With the adoption of the testing and the determination of the state to do field tests across the state, it was a higher need for having to spend the money [on devices],” she said. “In the past, the question was do we buy computers or do we keep our teachers in the classroom?”
Meanwhile, in the Sequoia Union High School District, students will take tests during the same window for all 11th-graders. Scientific samples will be taken from Carlmont and Menlo-Atherton high schools as well as 10th-graders at Redwood and ninth-graders at Sequoia high schools.
Brandon Lee, director of research and assessment for the district, said the field tests are a way for the district to test technology readiness, such as whether its Wi-Fi can withstand everybody being on it at one time. The director of technology has done a good job to make sure the infrastructure is strong, he added.
“We’re trying to make sure everybody has a chance to see what’s about to come,” he said. “We’re testing how kids do on online testing. … We’re trying to see if they can handle a laptop. We had to buy a lot of new laptops and earphones because the testing is not just reading and bubbling in answers, sometimes you click on a video and have to listen and answer.”
Additionally, calculators are embedded into the math portion of the exam and the district is trying to make sure students can navigate that, Lee said.
“The logging in procedure is so different,” he said. “Instead of passing out test booklets, the teacher has to log into the system, students have to log in with their first name and statewide identifier. We’re trying to make sure teachers are prepared for things like pausing tests and having to log back in. What happens when you’ve been away too long to the test and it kicked you out. The way which questions are asked are not just A, B, C, D now.”
In the South San Francisco Unified School District, using and navigating the computer tools and keyboard may also present a challenge for its younger students, said Shawnterra Moore, assistant superintendent of educational services and categorical programs. All schools in the South San Francisco Unified School District will also participate in the field testing, with the exception of the continuation high school Baden, she said.
“It’s a new process for facilitating these assessments with our students so that can create challenges for our test examiners and proctors who aren’t used to supporting students with online user names, passwords, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “We hope to learn more about our technology capabilities. We also hope to learn what needs our students have around technology that will inform our planning for next year. Lastly, we hope to provide our students and teachers with this new online testing experience so it will help to prepare us for next year’s instruction that needs to shift but also to give our students exposure about what’s coming so they can also make mental shifts about their more active role in the learning process.”
The Redwood City Elementary School District is also preparing for the field tests. It will also begin testing April 7. John Baker, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the technological infrastructure is in place for half its schools. Students will get the opportunity to see how to maneuver the mouse. The district has iPads and Chromebooks.
“A problematic piece for us in technology is trying to make sure we have enough devices to make sure we can handle the tests. It’s a way to figure out if we’re set for devices. … The number one thing is to get a little peek at the questions and see the types of skills students will need when answering questions. … We don’t have a device for every child in this district — we have devices being moved around from school to school. There’s little things people don’t think about that didn’t exist under the STAR tests.”
Meanwhile, teachers are also working to adjust to the new standards and tests. Randi Lucas teaches fourth- and fifth-grades at Henry Ford Elementary School in Redwood City and said she’s been putting in a lot more hours for new curriculum.
“Prepping all schools to do tests on computers will be a huge challenge,” she said. “The publishers haven’t had time to get teacher approved materials yet. It’s different from what we’ve been doing the last few years and more geared toward problem solving, not just knowing concepts, but applying them.”
For more information on the field tests, visit cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/smarterfieldtest.asp.
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