CA vs. feds on student testing back in play
by Tom Chorneau | SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet | http://bit.ly/1EB8CTM
March 11, 2015 (Calif.) :: State officials acknowledged Tuesday sidetracking a request to be excused from federal accountability mandates, thus putting the ongoing saga between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Obama administration over student assessments back in the spotlight.
The disclosure came the same day as testing began in California for the first time in content aligned to the Common Core State Standards and amid growing concerns over the public’s reaction to what is likely to be disappointing student performance on the new exams.
Looking to give schools at least another year without having to use those test scores for federal accountability purposes, the California State Board of Education agreed in January to petition U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to utilize participation rates instead.
But Keric Ashley, the California Department of Education’s interim deputy superintendent over testing and student achievement, said that request has yet to be submitted.
Ashley said staff delayed the request because Duncan’s office was preparing new guidance that federal officials said would provide flexibility to all states engaged in Common Core testing for the first time.
The guidance letter, which was released late last month, authorized any state “administering new college-and career-ready-aligned assessments in the 2014-2015 school year to not assign schools new ratings based on those assessments.”
The letter goes on to say, however, that states would “still be required to publicly report the results of the assessments, including against AMOs (annual measurable objectives).”
Ashley said the new federal policy doesn’t go far enough for California and he plans to raise the issue for consideration by the state board this week during its regular March meeting.
“We’re not sure what the new guidance means for California,” Ashley said. “So we are going to bring it back to the board and have further discussions about what they want to do.”
California poses an especially thorny political dilemma for Duncan and the White House when it comes to testing and accountability. As the largest and perhaps the most committed state to implementing the Common Core, California is also one of the few states that have not been granted a flexibility waiver from performance sanctions called for under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Cognizant that K-12 needed to prepare for teaching and testing in the new education standards, Brown signed legislation in 2013 that suspended virtually all statewide testing for one year, including those needed for federal accountability purposes.
The move provoked a sharp warning from Duncan that billions in federal Title I aid was at risk if federal testing requirements were not met.
The showdown ended when Duncan blinked first and agreed to a one-year waiver.
Last spring, schools piloted the new assessment system aligned to the Common Core and beginning this month, some three million students in grades three through eight and 11 will take the test – and this time, the scores will be publicly reported.
State officials have begun a communications campaign to warn parents, taxpayers and the mainstream press that scores from the Common Core tests cannot be compared to results from the former standards assessment system known as Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR. Half of all students taking the STAR exams in 2013 scored proficient or better.
Indeed, state schools’ chief Tom Torlakson made that point clear during a kickoff news conference in Sacramento on Tuesday.
“The new tests are too different from the old exams to make reliable comparisons between old scores and new,” Torlakson said. “This year’s test results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.”
Still at issue is whether the scores will be used for federal accountability purposes. NCLB remains law in California, including the provision that all students must now be proficient in math and English – a chimerical goal that becomes even more fanciful given the challenge students and teachers are facing with the new content standards and testing system.
Independent of the discussions with federal officials, the Brown administration and Torlakson are also engaged in a debate over the state’s accountability system.
Legislation adopted in 2012 requires that 40 percent of the Academic Performance Index be comprised of indicators other than test scores by 2016. While the review continues, members of the state board as well as perhaps legislative leaders and the governor’s office must also decide the meaning of a proficient test score.
In October leadership of the Smarter Balanced consortium that created to the new assessments aligned with the Common Core voted to adopt “cut scores” based on last spring’s field testing – recommendations for where states should set student achievement levels. Although California is part of that leadership group, the cut scores are not binding.
Partly because answers to the proficiency question remain elusive and partly because the testing system is still new, the governor and Torlakson are expected to soon announce a suspension of the API for a second year in a row.
If so, any hardline position Duncan might take now with regard to accountability in California would probably not generate the desired reaction from Brown, especially after the governor won the war of words over the same issue in 2014.
New state standardized tests begin after rocky trial run
By Howard Blume | LA Times | http://lat.ms/1GGBryU
Eleventh-grade students at Francisco Bravo Senior High Medical Magnet School take a practice test for the new state standardized tests. The districtwide trial run on Feb. 19 had major problems. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Tuesday marked the first day that schools statewide could begin administering new standardized tests that, for the first time, will be given online.
As the exams began, Los Angeles school officials acknowledged that a trial run of the test in February was a disaster both at the local and state level. The major problems have been corrected, officials said.
The English and math exams are part of a nationwide move to computerized assessments. California also is among 43 states that have adopted common learning goals linked to the new tests.
A major problem occurred Feb. 19, when L.A. Unified asked all of its schools to sign on to the state testing system for a two-hour trial. The state system crashed, forcing L.A. Unified to halt the effort about 30 minutes in, said Cynthia Lim, head of data and accountability for the nation’s second-largest school system.
State officials told L.A. Unified that it has since made fixes that will allow high levels of online traffic, Lim said.
But L.A. Unified also was having online traffic jams. During the trial, Internet access slowed through the school system. Only about two-thirds of schools were able to log into the practice test. Nearly 80% of these schools reported frustratingly slow response times and other issues.
Problems occurred on all types of devices used, including iPads, Chromebooks and desktop computers, Lim said.
The online exams are a welcome improvement over paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice tests, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
The new approach reflects "the exciting changes taking place in California classrooms,” Torlakson said in a statement. “Students are being tested on their ability to reason and think. They must draw logical conclusions and cite evidence from what they have read, and they must solve real-world math problems.”
He added: These tests will give parents, teachers and schools the feedback they need to help students succeed.”
Torlakson conceded that technical issues have complicated the roll out.
Board member Monica Ratliff said she heard from schools that the test seemed to work best on desktop computers in computer labs.
Since the troubled practice run, L.A. Unified has made changes in its programming and equipment. The first testing on Tuesday seemed to go smoothly for about 6,000 students at 94 schools, Lim said.
The state intends to use this year’s results as a baseline to compare with future years.
L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said it may be too soon to use the tests for anything but as an aid for teachers to plan lessons. He said students in L.A. and elsewhere need more practice using keyboards and computers before they and their teachers should be held accountable for the results.
For parents, a new way to view test scores
By John Fensterwald | EdSource Today | http://bit.ly/1L24tfG
Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource Today
Mar 10, 2015 | This story was updated March 11, 2015 to include the State Board of Education vote :: The vocabulary has changed, and so have the numbers and the format. The two-page report that parents will receive later this year describing their children’s results on the new Smarter Balanced tests on the Common Core State Standards will be very different from what they’ve seen in the past.
That’s intentional. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the State Board of Education are using multiple cues to send a uniform message: Parents shouldn’t compare the new results with scores on past state standardized tests; this year’s English language arts and math tests are, they say, more difficult, and are based on a different set of academic standards. They mark a break from the past.
At its meeting on Wednesday, the State Board of Education approved, with suggestions for changes, a draft of the report, which districts will send home within two months after students take the new test. Although a few districts began giving the Smarter Balanced tests in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11 this week, many will begin after spring break in April and finish in late May or June.
Source: California Department of Education
Students who took the old California Standards Tests in English language arts and math received scores on a scale of 150 to 600 points spanning five performance levels, from far below basic to advanced. Those categories are eliminated on the Smarter Balanced tests, and the scores are presented differently. (Click to enlarge.)
The new report doesn’t use the terms that designated five levels of achievement on the California Standards Tests: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. Instead, Smarter Balanced uses four achievement levels, which state officials have designated: standard not met, standard nearly met, standard met, standard exceeded. The levels will designate the degree of “progress toward mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for success in future coursework.” For 11th-graders, they measure the degree to which students are on track to be ready for college or a career after graduating from high school.
For math and English language arts, students will receive a separate composite score between 2,000 and 3,000 points that falls within one of the achievement levels. One complaint about the old state system, known as STAR, was that it emphasized a student’s level of achievement, such as basic. With Smarter Balanced, state officials want to emphasize the growth in a student’s score from year to year. It includes a margin of error line, which shows how a score might have changed if the student had taken the test again.
The sample hypothetical report gives the score for “Juan,” a 5th-grader whose 2,508 points for English language arts falls within the lower range of the third level, standard met, but the margin of error also places him in the upper range of the standard nearly met level (see illustration below). His math score of 2,279 is toward the bottom of the lowest level.
Credit: California Department of Education
The report for parents on their child’s Smarter Balanced assessment will show a composite score on a range of 2,000 to 3,000 points and the performance level it falls into, in this case the lower end of the third of four levels. It designates that Juan met the expected level of performance measuring skills and knowledge of the Common Core English language arts standards in fifth grade. The lower bar shows how well students nationally did on the Smarter Balanced field test last year. Critics say that is an invalid comparison.
“The message we are sending is complex and multi-faceted,” said state board President Michael Kirst. “This is a new test that shouldn’t be compared with the old test. It’s a more difficult test with new standards, and the scoring levels are not as precise as they might appear.”
Although the reports will likely go to parents in late summer, teachers should receive electronically the scores of students in their classes within a month of the test. That’s much quicker than in the past and should enable teachers to determine where to focus attention in the final weeks of school and which students need help in specific content areas.
The report will also feature a graphic that will show how a student’s score compares with the average score on the “practice” Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts that students in California and other consortium states took last year. Doug McRae, a retired educational measurement specialist and critic of the state board’s overall handling of Smarter Balanced, chastised the use of this comparison in comments to the board. The purpose of the field test was to help weed out questions for this year’s test, and students arbitrarily were given questions with various degrees of difficulty; no student was given the full range of problems, making any comparison unreliable, he said.
During their discussion of the report on Wednesday, state board members were divided on whether the results from the field test should be included. Education groups had conflicting opinions as well, with the California School Boards Association supporting including the information and the California Teachers Association opposed, unless the report includes a clarification on the reliability of field test results.
Board member Bruce Holaday said that it is important for parents to have some frame of reference “like putting a ruler next to the rock on the moon,” and the field test results do that.
But board member Aida Molina asked if the report might be misinforming parents by presenting an invalid comparison. Particularly if a student’s score is lower than the average on the field test, the message to parents would be, “Here we are a year later and no better off.”
Tony Alpert, executive director of Smarter Balanced, acknowledged that parents could reach that conclusion, and suggested that training for teachers and an interpretive guide could “mitigate” that possibility.
After further discussion, the board approved the report while suggesting that the state Department of Education, which wrote the draft, elaborate on who took the field test and how parents should view the information.
Keric Ashley, interim deputy state superintendent, downplayed the importance of the field test comparison in an interview, saying that the purpose was to provide parents “a larger context” of where their students’ scores fell relative to other students.
Source: California Department of Education
The student report breaks down the total score into broad skills stressed by Common Core and tested by Smarter Balanced. In this hypothetical example, 5th grader Juan did well in reading but poorly on a performance task measuring his research and inquiry skills. He did well on problem solving in math but poorly in other areas. (Click to enlarge.)
The second page of the report elaborates on the purpose of the Smarter Balanced test, which, it says, includes a “wider variety of questions than traditional multiple-choice tests and include tasks and test items that require students to explain how they solve problems.” It breaks down the overall score into components that the Common Core standards stress. These include reading, writing, listening and research/inquiry skills in the 5th-grade English language arts test and problem solving, concepts and procedures and communicating reasoning for 5th-grade math. In the hypothetical report, Juan’s results put him “above standard” in reading but “below standard” in research/inquiry.
By comparison, a similar math report to parents for the California Standards Tests (see pages 40-41) included a breakdown for decimals, fractions and negative numbers, operations and factoring, and algebra and functions.
The Smarter Balanced components measure “overarching, higher order skills that students need to succeed as they progress though the grades” and can’t be compared with the more specific skills that were on the previous tests, Kirst said.
A two-page sheet prevents the ability to explain Smarter Balanced and the new standards in depth, Ashley said, adding that the state will post a comprehensive guide to the tests on the state Department of Education website. Districts may also supplement the material that they send home with the parent reports, he said. Test results should be just one piece of a larger discussion about how a child is performing, he said.
The test results for schools and district results won’t be available until early fall, similar to the past schedule. This year’s Smarter Balanced scores will be the baseline for measuring school improvement, but the state board hasn’t determined when and how schools and districts will be held accountable for the results.
The Association of California School Administrators and other education groups have called on the state board to use this year’s results essentially as a practice test, without any accountability purpose, because teachers are still being trained in Common Core, and many students have not had any experience with online tests.
But Kirst said that the baseline scores “will simply say where we are now” – nothing more. The board hasn’t decided how future results, showing growth toward yet-to-be-determined statewide target scores, will be used, he said. Meanwhile, the state board is committed to being transparent with results, he said.