I have been so preoccupied with writing columns on the local war between charter and traditional public schools that I have unwittingly neglected another contentious public battle. The standards for testing in California’s public schools are changing, and the looming fight could be as partisan and ugly as the roll out of the Affordable Care Act.
Out of my 234 columns for San Jose Inside, only a few have referenced Common Core State Standards and the next generation of assessments. One of my readers, John M., chastised me for not giving more attention to the standards in a recent email. Sorry, John. I intend to make up for it.
The alphabet soup of federal and state accountability measures will be no more. We can forget about the API (Academic Performance Index), AYP, (Adequate Yearly Progress), CSTs (California Standards Tests), and individual student scores from FBB (Far Below Basic) to Advanced, on a five-scale measure. The U.S. Department of Education will still demand results-oriented accountability next year, but the California Board of Education refused to ask schools and teachers to field test a new assessment while being accountable for the old one.
This coming spring there will be a field test for the next generation of assessments called Smarter Balanced. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is developing what it says are “valid, reliable, and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The package of tests will include summative (end of year) assessments for accountability and interim assessments for instructional use.”
State Board President Michael Kirst, at a meeting held last week at San Jose State University, said there is no agreement with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about California’s refusal to give reportable results for students and schools in 2014. In fact, Dr. Kirst implied, the negotiations with the federal government are quite contentious.
Californians who have children in schools or anticipate soon having kids often cling to school and district performances, based on the old CSTs. The results make for front-page stories and shape educational discourse at school board meetings, faculty meetings and soccer games from Eureka to San Diego. Good school scores—above the state goal of 800 API—increase the value of homes, while those scoring below 800 see property values decrease.
For the most part, the public—and realtors—paid attention to the individual student and school scores in English/language arts and mathematics. California’s state tests have been skewed because of higher expectations than some states, which developed tests on federal mandates that were not as academically robust.
The old tests were all No. 2 pencil, fill-in-the-bubble tests. The next generation of assessments will be driven by computer adaptive testing technologies. They will also branch higher and lower for individual student skill sets by subject. This is excellent progress for assessments.
As a principal, when I walked around my schools on testing days—and there were many at the middle-school level—I observed students who were depressed about their lack of knowledge. Some were upset at having to fill out random bubble dots, feeling it was beneath their intellect. According to the new Smarter Balanced Assessments, these issues should occur far less than in the old model.
The new assessment will be a deeper test, more connected to real world problem solving. The test will include more writing and be applicable to college readiness. But there are a few red flags.
The California Republican Party voted last month to denounce Common Core. The party’s resolution (F2013-2) wants to eliminate Common Core Educational Policies. Additionally, the assessment in its highest form depends on quality technology, and broadband access and equipment in California’s public schools is not up to par.
I hope that some of Silicon Valley’s deep pocketed corporations can help address this problem for local districts that lack the necessary technology, just one year before we begin testing with Smarter Balanced assessments.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.