State revises school tests

In a community such as La Cañada Flintridge, where schools’ standardized test performance is a matter of personal pride, the idea of going two full years without Academic Performance Index scores can seem exasperating.

But that’s exactly what school officials are preparing for as guidelines for the new California Common Core Standards testing trickle down from the state — guidelines calling for a full season of field testing to replace the now-defunct STAR tests.

Anais Wenn, La Cañada Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, described the process as a learning curve that will likely span the next few years as everyone becomes accustomed to the new curriculum and tests.

“I’m sure every year it’s going to get better and better as we learn,” she said Monday. “Once we have the strategies down, we will be back on our game and will continue to make improvements every year.”

The new Common Core standards for learning were adopted as of this school year and are already being used in La Cañada classrooms, but until last month, state lawmakers hadn’t decided how academic achievement would be measured.

Because the new standards — which aim to gauge students’ deeper understanding of content and ask them to dynamically apply their knowledge — are so different from the concrete, grade-specific benchmarks of the California State Content Standards adopted in the late 1990s, state testing officials hope the field test will help guide future evaluations.

“They’re different assessments measuring different standards,” said Jessica Valdez, administrator of the Statewide Assessment Transition Office of the California Department of Education. “There are going to be different scoring levels.”

When asked what the new scoring levels would look like, Valdez replied, “We don’t know yet.”

Signed Oct. 2 by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 484 called for the suspension of this spring’s STAR test, the state education department’s main evaluation tool. The law outlines the means by which school districts will prepare for the new, computer-based Common Core evaluations set to begin in the 2014-15 school year.

The field test will allow districts to see if there are still gaps in their own information technology delivery systems, a crucial factor for La Cañada Unified, which began a complete technological infrastructure upgrade this summer.

Schools will field test in either math or English from March 18 to June 6 in grades 3 through 8 and among a sampling of high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Which content they are tested on will be determined by the state for each grade level.

The idea is not to test student performance, but to test the system itself, its technological delivery and methodology. Therefore, no schools or districts will receive information on how students performed on the tests.

“The purpose of the field test is to try out brand new items,” Valdez said. “It would not be a valid measure of student achievement.”

School districts have the option of also field testing in the content area they were not originally selected for, for a still undetermined fee. The education department encourages districts to opt instead for free practice tests provided by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the state-led coalition governing the transition to Common Core and the testing.

To accommodate the transition, AB 484 stipulates no API scores will be recorded this year or next, until a new way of determining the index in light of the new standards is developed, according to state officials.

Local school district officials say they understand this period of adjustment may be uncomfortable in La Cañada, where schools have historically enjoyed very high API scores.

Wenn said the quality of instruction will remain high. She said La Cañada Unified teachers have been busy revising curriculum, and the district is working on professional development to bring all educators on board with the new standards.

In the temporary void of API scores, student growth will be measured by internal assessments collected throughout the year, from quarterly, semester and final evaluations to district benchmarks.

“We can reach out to our internal assessments to measure the progress our students have made,” Wenn said.

Providing this time for acclimation to the new system is crucial, said Lindi Dreibelbis, LCUSD’s chief director of assessment and research, who is waiting to hear further details from the state on field testing. She asked the community for understanding and patience.

“We’re all dancing as fast as we can and in the best way possible,” Dreibelbis said.


SARA CARDINE can be reached at ALSO:

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