State superintendent of schools visits to talk Common Core, state exams

State Supt. Tom Torlakson was in town on Wednesday, but not to speak at a large rally.

He was in a much more intimate setting — the home of Glendale Council PTA President Sandy Russell, where he fielded questions from about 10 local parents about the new Common Core State Standards and computerized state exams that students will begin taking next month.

Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada, school districts are in the process of implementing the new standards which promote critical thinking, in-depth problem solving and calls on students to read more nonfiction materials.

The standards that have been adopted by 45 states, so far, will give education officials an apples-to-apples comparison for measuring student achievement.

However, the new standards and state exams come with questions from parents about how their children will be impacted.

Patty Scripter, vice president for education for the California State PTA, said the state organization came up with the idea of inviting Torlakson to parents’ homes in order to provide firsthand 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.

“I’m really sensing excitement by the teachers,” Torlakson said, adding that state officials will begin gauging 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, because the new exams must be taken on computers. Some districts without access to the Internet or enough computers will have the next two years to build capacity.

California school districts received state funds in 2013 to add more technology to their classrooms to help reach the point where testing can be done on computers, but Torlakson said he is working closely with Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia to secure more federal funds to purchase additional computers.

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 she’s worried about 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 had the same concern and turned to a website — — where students can practice typing for free.

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 as a time of “testing the test.”

School districts will not receive scores until students take the exams in March 2015. .

Torlakson also cautioned parents that test scores will likely dip initially, as they did when the state initially adopted the former standardized state exams years ago.

“We anticipate a drop,” he said, adding that he’s optimistic scores will return to their current levels in the future.


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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