LCUSD gears up for Common Core field testing

A day after returning from spring break Monday, La Cañada Unified will embark on a month-long period of Common Core field testing when La Cañada Elementary School students sit in computer labs for the first-ever in a series of completely online standardized tests.

The tests they take — aligned with new state standards that demand ingenuity, problem solving and critical thinking skills — will not be graded, nor will schools or administrators learn how students performed.

Instead, the California Department of Education and the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which oversees Common Core testing across the nation, will use the information to test the validity of the test items and the online transmission of materials and responses.

Still, La Cañada Unified elementary schools have been busy taking practice tests, so students and teachers could acquaint themselves with the new delivery system, according to IT Director Jamie Lewsadder. La Cañada Elementary school students will have first crack at the new tests, followed by students at other schools in the district.

"The primary focus has been just getting them comfortable with the test and the technology they'd have to know," Lewsadder said. "It's just letting them play with the test, so to speak, so they're not shell-shocked the first day."

Most LCUSD students in third through eighth grades will be given 25 math and 25 English Language Arts questions, about half the length of a full test, while Palm Crest fourth-graders will take a complete test in math only.

La Cañada High School juniors have been selected as a "scientific sample," whose answers will be comprehensively reviewed by SBAC as part of a representational sample of California's demographic.

Lindy Dreibelbis, LCUSD's chief director of assessment and research, said while it has been difficult to keep track of the changes coming in from the state level, teachers and staff have persevered.

"Everybody is doing a fabulous job of trying to live in a flexible state at the moment," Dreibelbis said. "I'm feeling confident that we're approaching this in the most positive, comprehensive way possible, given the extenuating circumstances."

Lewsadder echoed that sentiment in regard to the district's technological readiness.

"We've basically done all we can do to make sure we have the infrastructure in place. Now we're just waiting to see if the state can hold up its side," she said.

Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent for the District, School, and Innovation branch of the California Department of Education, said Wednesday all was going well at the state level and CDE was in constant communication with school districts.

"It's not just a new assessment, but we're using an entirely different environment, so folks have a lot of questions," Sigman said.

SBAC will review field test data to identify valid test items from those that should be eliminated from the actual tests next spring.

"There's a multitude of data on an item that indicates how students will perform," Sigman said. "You don't want an item to not function properly."

Lewsadder said she was glad the district was given this time to acclimate to the online tests and let students and teachers concentrate on the process, and not solely performance.

"I'm excited we get to focus on the learning and on the experience and making the technology better, and not just focusing on the grades this time," she said. "I think that will be good for everybody."


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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