The new Common Core State Standards and computerized state exams that students will begin taking in upcoming weeks were up for discussion Tuesday night at the La Cañada home of Glendale Council PTA President Sandy Russell, where State Supt. Tom Torlakson fielded questions from about 10 local parents.
La Cañada, Glendale and Burbank school districts are currently in the process of implementing the new standards that promote critical thinking, in-depth problem solving and calls on students to read more nonfiction texts.
The standards that have so far been adopted by 45 states will grant those states an apples-to-apples comparison for measuring student achievement.
But with the new standards and state exams come questions from parents over how their children will be impacted. Patty Scripter, vice president for education for the California State PTA, said the state organization has recently settled on inviting Torlakson to parents' homes to divulge first-hand information.
"We wanted a low-key way to have a conversation with the superintendent," she said.
Educators who support the transition to the new standards laud them for being more engaging and for bringing more real-world relevance to the classroom, including Torlakson.
"I'm really sensing excitement by the teachers," he said, adding that state officials will begin to gauge schools on the success of their academic and arts programs and not merely students' test scores on state exams.
But with the new standards and exams comes a "digital divide," he said. Some districts in the state without access to Internet and computers or tablets for students will have the next two years to build capacity.
California districts received state funds in 2013 to add more technology to their classrooms for the purpose of testing students, but Torlakson said he is working closely with Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia to secure more federal funds for securing computers for schools.
Even as students up and down the state take the new exams this spring, the scores will not be released to schools, and several local educators, including Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan, have regarded this initial testing year a time of "testing the test."
Parent Bita Mathews, who has a child attending Balboa Elementary, told Torlakson that a lot of elementary aged children still don't know how to type, and was worried how they would adapt to the computerized tests they will take this spring.
Mountain Avenue Elementary parent Elizabeth Ashley-Haynes said PTA members at that school held the same concern and turned to a website — www.typingweb.com — where students can practice typing for free.
Torlakson also reassured parents that test scores will likely dip this year, as they did when the state initially adopted the former standardized state exams years ago.
"We anticipate a drop," he said.
School districts will not receive students' scores until students take the exams next year, in March 2015. A year from then, in March 2016, the state will gain its first year-to-year comparison of how students performed.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.