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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Smarter Balanced Assessments - Part One

What is the history behind these tests?
There has been a great deal of media coverage recently about state and national education issues and much of it can seem confusing and contradictory.  Many of these news reports use jargon and terms that can be unclear such as "Common Core Standards", "No Child Left Behind", and "Smarter Balanced Assessments".  As parents, we hear bits and pieces of these reports but not many of us have the time to wade through it all to put together the pieces of the story.
At our most recent Parent Advisory Council, we discussed these topics as well as the new mandated state testing that will be given to 11th graders for this first time this April.  Based on our discussion, the Advisory Council recommended that we create a series of communications about the new student assessment system including its connection to national and state laws.

The roots of our state assessment system go back to 1965
On April 9, 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.  This landmark legislation allocated large amounts of financial resources to meet the needs of students from low-income homes.  For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that some students need more services to reach the goals that are set forth for all students.  The federal money allocated to schools for low-income students is sometimes referred to as Title I funding.  ESEA is a law with a limited lifespan and, therefore, has been reauthorized by Congress several times since 1965.  For more information about ESEA, click here.

No Child Left Behind was a new name for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
In 2002, President George W. Bush reauthorized ESEA and renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  The federal government created a new role for itself in public education through the mandate that all states have student assessment systems that expose achievement gaps between groups of students.  NCLB also included a series of sanctions for schools that did not meet student achievement targets, which increased dramatically each year.  In California, the STAR tests were created to meet the federal requirements.  Despite widespread dissatisfaction with NCLB, these tests were given in California until spring 2013.  At Tam District, our STAR test scores have had an upward trend for the past decade.  For more information click here.

Common Core Standards change the national dialogue
Part of the backlash against NCLB occurred because states adopted different standards for what students need to know and be able to do as well as different systems to assess student achievement.  The Common Core Standards initiative gained traction due to the frustration of inconsistent standards and testing systems.  The Common Core Standards are an attempt to nationally standardize knowledge and skills taught to all students.  Although the Common Core Standards have also been the topic of some controversy, they were written by educators and focus on using information and skills to solve real world problems.  Under Common Core, the same skills that have always been taught will continue to be taught and there is an increased emphasis on the application of knowledge.  Click here for more information about how Tam District has incorporated the Common Core Standards into the curriculum.

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment system will be used to test students on the Common Core Standards
This spring all school districts in California will assess students using a new system known as Smarter Balanced.  This new set of tests are aligned to the Math and English Language Arts Common Core Standards and will include both multiple choice questions as well as performance tasks that require students to apply knowledge and solve problems.  At the high school level, only 11th graders will be tested.  For more information about these assessments click here.

Data will be more useful than ever
The Smarter Balanced Assessment system is a mandatory requirement for all schools in California.  Test results will be available to schools, teachers and parents relatively quickly and the data promises to be more useful than what was received from the STAR tests.  Additionally, the inclusion of performance tasks will allow a new level of understanding of a student's ability to apply knowledge.  For sample performance tasks click here.

More information about Smarter Balanced Assessments is coming soon and will include:
  • More detail about Smarter Balanced Assessments including how they are scored and how information will be reported to parents.
  • Tips to help your student prepare for testing day.
  • Information about the variety of assessments given throughout high school.
  • Frequently Asked Questions about student assessment.

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