Posts Tagged ‘SBAC’

From K on Up

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The usual uproar has resounded in the media since the latest scores for high-stakes once-a-year testing have been released. Which state has more students at Level 3 (meets the standard)? Which has more at Level 1 (not meeting the standard)? As if, that is all that counts. I hope not.

The first error of media talk is to call the results “Common Core Scores.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning standards devised to better organize what students in the United States learn by the time they graduate from high school. CCSS is not a test/assessment/exam. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) states have designed an assessment to see how well students have achieved as they go through twelve years of learning. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) has also developed an assessment that some states use. It is misleading to call them Common Core tests. How about “test questions aligned with CCSS” or “test questions based on standards of CCSS”?

Second, the conflict is over the test that is used, not the standards. And part of the furor is over who takes the test. Should Kindergarteners take the test? No. Should twelfth graders take the exam. No, they are taking SAT, AP exams, ACT. They’ve already learned what they are going to learn. Schools should focus on making sure those kids graduate and maybe go to college.

Third, what do the scores show? In California, overall, students did better on the English Language Arts assessment than the Math in this year’s 2015 test which the state calls the baseline to compare with the old STAR yearly exam, baseline 2003. Have all states released their outcomes? No. They are arguing about them. Instead, the issue should be to analyze how different aggregates of students did and then adjust the school/district/state curriculum to improve.

Next, why are parents and teachers upset? Because states are using the scores to evaluate teachers as well as students and calling them low-performing. I say, you don’t need tests to know how teachers or students are performing. You should use tests only to help teachers understand how to improve the curriculum; to help students get tutoring; to create small classes with more than one teacher to work with them. For example, a representative of the non-profit Californians Together says the tests can identify English Language Learners in order to find effective programs to help increase their English learning.

Last, why are schools/districts/states obsessing over a once-a-year method of assessing students? And throwing it out and starting over in hopes of getting better outcomes? If a better process was set up to train teachers; to oversee schools; to provide help for students in need; to spend time during the school year for teachers to use smaller formative assessment that allows for curriculum adaptation during the year; I feel you would see the opportunity for critical thinking, problem solving, analytical writing — the goals of CCSS.

From Kindergarten on up the gap in students’ knowledge across the country would slowly shrink.



Trouble with Testing #2

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Since the last post about testing trouble, written 6-15-15, the House of Representatives has voted for a bill on July 19, 2015. HR 5 is called the Student Success Act,  the newest House revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which has not been touched since 1965. All those interested in education issues heard from the Senate several months ago, but nothing has been forthcoming since then.  Even after reconciliation, the bill will be vetoed. That is assured. Can it then be resurrected by 2/3 vote? Unlikely.

PARCC elementary school

PARCC elementary school

Of course, resistant states’ tails are wagging in glee about HR 5. The four principles claimed by the House Education and Workforce Committee, sponsored by John Kline (R- MN) and Tom Rokita (R-IN), reduces the federal footprint, restores local state control, supports effective teachers, and empowers parents. The four principles are supported by two grants: Local Academic Flexible Grant and Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant.

In spite of glowing words used to describe HR 5, is this bill for real? Critics determine that resources are taken away from struggling schools. Most federal Department of Education requirements, including Title I, are said to be coerced and therefore are included in a block grant which local recipients can divide as they choose. School choices, i.e., vouchers are proposed (using taxpayer funds?) and called local opportunity for students and parents. Local-driven teacher evaluation systems are asserted, though not spelled out. What does the NEA and AFT say?

What is said about providing a decent set of standards so that teachers in any state can be assured that students who move into their classroom will be informed? HR5 declares states make their own standards that address the needs of each state’s students. Are we going back to the same spot the country was at 7 years ago?

Lovely words are written about accountability and evaluation, but few words address assessment and analysis. The bill scoffs at federal Adequate Yearly Progress, but calls for similar accountability.

So now what? A month ago, this post worried about the wealth of assessment (testing) and the poverty of inquiry about results to promote more learning.

Teachers and parents complain vociferously about testing, but ‘summative,” or once-a-year, tests won’t disappear until something better is advocated. However, with inquiry to analyze results, let us call for the assessment named criterion-referenced testing, the model that tells the school how well students have learned the subjects taught at the grade level. Not so helpful are norm-referenced testing results which only tell you how a student does in comparison to all students taking the test. A well-known test of that sort is the old Iowa Standardized Test that was given in the 1960’s.

Important! Once the state or whatever group like Measured Progress scores and analyzes the results to break down the assessed outcomes into strengths and weaknesses, teachers and administrators can then make an action plan on what to do the following year.

A far better alternative exists! This post recommends substituting “formative” tests instead of once-a-year exams. Using a “cycle of inquiry” students are assessed after each 8 or 10 weeks of instruction. Then teachers analyze how students are doing in that frame of time and make action plans to determine how to revise their teaching during the current year, not the following year.

You may have heard of a “cycle of inquiry,” a business strategy for improvement, used by some schools. Teachers unions, administration associations, SBAC, and PARCC should demand professional development money to train schools in this strategy. Thus, the purpose of testing is changed.

Funds, supposedly, will be available in any ESEA transformation. All those business-oriented legislators will love inquiry. Low-performing schools and high-achievement schools will have successful students, the goal of the 21st century.

*SBAC-Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

*PARCC- Partnership Assessment for Readiness for College and Career




Trouble with Testing 

Monday, June 15th, 2015
SBAC elementary school

SBAC elementary school

Let us dig down into the trouble with testing – deeper than the Opt Out uproar. District representatives have spent a great deal of time explaining why assessment is important. It provides a set of statistics to compare the individual school to the district, to other regions in the state, and to the nation. It provides the teacher with an affirmation of his/her observations about the success of the single student. Analysis of the scores for a class tells what needs to be re-taught and taught next. But do those attributes provide a clue to the drawbacks to current  testing seen by teachers, parents, students?

At this time, the country is awash in opinions and myths about the new country-wide standards and the testing that has been devised to assess progress. Denise Juneau, Montana’s state Superintendent of Schools, fending off critics, reminded the state that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are about good teaching. Connecting CCSS to testing problems is misguided.

The drawback that has affected many states, whether using tests by Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC) or PARCC, the other test consortium, is the technological platforms that were assembled too quickly. For example, an article in Montana’s Billings Gazette discusses the glitches that delayed testing for eight days. Too many students tried to access the platform at the same time which brought down the entire system for two other states besides Montana. Measured Progress, the vendor assigned to oversee the testing technology, agrees that the project must be revised. See “Several Montana Schools to Continue with Smarter Balanced Testing After Glitches” by Alice Miller Missoulian, April 17, 2015, Billings Gazette.

In addition, not enough computers are part of the problem. Timelines for using computers, tablets, and laptops must be aligned. For example, Sedgewick Elementary in Cupertino, a district in the heart of Silicon Valley, is an example of these difficulties. The school spent weeks on assessment because the grade levels had to be assigned to go to the computer lab that was set up for their particular assessment. For students who missed a day, computer time had to be reserved to make up the tests missed.

Can you imagine the time needed to download the test level for the grade assigned to a session, the intricacy of allotting time for make-up exams, and time needed to show kids how to access the exams – even in a district where computers are part of every child’s home? Also, understand that district budgets set limits for the cost of upgrading computers, laptops, or tablets. Is it enough as the technology improves? In addition, think of the time, cost, and number of technicians needed to make sure the machines and servers are maintained.

Looking even deeper in the assessments, elementary students take exams that depend on the child’s understanding of word processing. They must write sentence answers in both the mathematics tests and the language arts tests. Teachers have said that the school curriculum will need to include how to word process. Do not use tablets as they do not have easily accessible keyboards. How will students show what they know if they are spending all the testing time searching for the question mark, deleting misspelled words, typing the equal sign rather than the plus sign, to name a few? Imagine the students who are learning English. Imagine students who live in a poor, rural area of the country where the school district does not have money for up-to-date computers and servers for a high school. SBAC and PARCC do have paper exams for such schools. Does that preserve equality?

Eventually, these difficulties will be corrected, but the next post will address the question of emphasis on the wealth of testing and poverty of analysis. What’s the purpose?

PS: And don’t count on fiscally stingy states to address these issues.  Several states have dropped out of the consortiums and refuse to adopt CCSS. Why? They want to change the standards for their students on their own. Do they think they can implement the technology needed, cultivate a set of standards different from CCSS, as well as create assessment that ensures student success in the 21st century?

The education administrators in those states are burying their heads in the sand. Have their tails begun wagging for help?


Opt Out

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Has the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) thought about the variety of students who must be assessed?

Or is each state, member of a consortium or not, only thinking of assessment in terms of the numbers No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires, which is still not revised in Congress?

The “opt out” strategy that has swept across the country, mainly in PARCC assessment states, but also in SBAC states, sheds glaring light. This post will look over the statements made about “opting out.”

“Opt out” supporters do not like the over-emphasis on testing; but also feel that student data privacy is not protected under the current assessment requirements. In reading various blogs and reports by parents on “opt out,” it can be claimed that middle class, educated parents and students are rebelling against the national fanaticism for testing. As has been said many times, students that come from high income, educated communities always do well. Testing all the time does not serve their learning well. Also, these parents have long been leery of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA. Note that in January 2015, President Obama called for revised federal legislation to regulate student data privacy. Up to Congress to change the current FERPA.

Let’s look at the national United Opt Out website. United Opt Out’s position is that corporations are dominating high-stakes testing decisions that the site intimates has influence over Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the consortia, and  the United States Department of Education. The website names ACHIEVE, a partner of the testing corporation Pearson, and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) which advocates for free markets, limited government, and federalism.

From my perspective, even more paranoid are the views named in the book Crimes of the Educators written by Alex Newman and Sam Blumenthal. Mr. Newman, in his post for Brave New Schools on WND News, “Common Core: Obama’s Assault on Children” (4/12/2015) wants to “stop the nightmarish plot and keep liberty alive.” He includes CCSS in the testing tirade. He has said that CCSS shapes minds with propaganda and reduces critical thinking for nefarious purposes. He asserts CCSS is a federal encroachment on every child’s education and that the assessments leave privacy of student records open to the world. He places guilt on the Obama administration, the UN, crony capitalists hoping to profit, population control zealot and Common Core financier Bill Gates, and “the whole corrupt educational establishment”. According to his convictions, students should “opt out.” Now, to whom is he speaking?

School districts from Seattle, Washington, to Pacific Grove, California, to the state of Colorado and New York have counted thousands of students and parents opting out of this year’s tests. Many districts have made applications that must be signed. Only California (SBAC) and Utah have regulations that allow parents and students to “opt out.” Since the country must still abide by the regulations under NCLB, state and school district administrators pale with fear of punitive measures because schools must include the number of test takers to fulfill the Adequate Yearly Progress, known as AYP, reports still required by federal law.

Before thinking that getting rid of the federal government’s place in schools will solve the CCSS and assessment problem, ask the administrators at SBAC and PARCC if they have thought of how to equip the United States’ diverse schools, students, and teachers for this future? Opting out does not help student achievement; supportive alternatives are the answer.

What about supporting diverse needs? Look for the next post that will address the problems for the actual tests.



SBAC Summative & Formative Assessments & Digital Library

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
From the SBAC Digital Library

From the SBAC Digital Library

Michelle Obama will travel to Japan and Cambodia in the middle of March 2015 to garner support for the Peace Corps and Japan’s Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (OCV). The visit will initiate USAID’s Let Girls Learn, “an international effort aimed at enabling millions of young women to attend, and stay in, school.” President Obama’s initiative introduced two weeks ago without much fanfare. Education opportunities for girls in eleven Balkan, Asian, and African nations are the Peace Corps’ and OCV’s focus in 2015. That means building school sites, finding books, purchasing uniforms.

Think about the United States. The states struggle over a new set of standards for learning called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the assessments for the standards devised by two consortia, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These assessments need computers, laptops, or tablets to take the exams; professional development to implement the standards and learn how to instruct students to take the exams; servers and cables, cables, and more cables. Are $$ ca-chinging in your brain?

Our last post discussed the problems for PARCC with the development of assessments handed off to Pearson, a UK education corporation. Let’s see how the 21 SBAC states have fared in 2014 and soon this year, 2015 Will the cost be supported?

From the latest updated SBAC website, the most controversial of the assessments given once a year over a period of several days, is the summative test explanation. The site shows a summary of the content of the exams and description of the revisions and analysis of the Pilot and Field Tests. The Field Test Report outlines the 2014 results from the 13 field test states, used to gauge accuracy of questions and school readiness for 2015. It also describes support for students with learning disabilities, second language issues, and physical constraints like hearing and vision. Unlike the PARCC model, 65 teachers, administrators, and parents from 17 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands determined the achievement levels for 2015 exams.

Second, anyone who is interested can look over the practice tests and the Digital Library of teacher resources to prepare grade 3-12 students for the collaborative thinking and problem solving the assessments require. SBAC practice, however, is as sparing and confusing as PARCC practice critics claim.

When you look at the English/Language Arts practice tests, it is apparent that only some lucky students, but certainly not the majority, will be able to handle the punctuation, grammar, and formatting requirements asked of them. Think of your third grader. The parent can, however, buy as much practice as she can afford from a multitude of education companies. Browse the internet.

Last, the most vigorous outrage has unfurled over the numerous testing days, preparation for, stress for students, outcomes already long suspected, privacy of information analyzed and held on databases. Each state’s department of education, whether a PARCC or SBAC affiliate, will have to come to terms with the backlash generated, NOT by the standards, but by the lack of long-range planning before the actual implementation of assessments for CCSS.

However, roiling from budget cuts to its once outstanding school master plan, California has centered on new directives to forge an array of measures to gauge school success. For one, the California State Board of Education voted to suspend for another year the Academic Performance Index (API) that gave schools a score used to evaluate performance of teachers, students, and schools in boosting academic achievement. The API and the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) score, mandated by the federal NCLB legislation, had yearly distinguished success from failure.

In addition, the state’s “school quality” measures will take in not only assessment scores, but student attendance, English proficiency, access to educational materials, suspensions, graduation rate, dropout rates, and performance in college-level courses; all factors that indicate whether or not the achievement gap is closing. Hallelujah! The aspects that make up the climate for a succeeding school will be addressed.

You have most likely heard of “continuous improvement”-a way to examine how a school is improving. The strongest change for California is the State Board of Education’s decision to designate an agency of highly-qualified (recognize that term?) teachers, administrators, superintendents, and County Office of Education experts to form the California Collaborative of Educational Excellence (CCEE). Its duties are to support learning, share knowledge, evaluate a school’s needs, and provide sources of direct intervention so that California schools, public and charter, well-heeled and low income, succeed for every student. To come is the $$ assessment!

Fortunately, the United States doesn’t need the Let Girls Learn initiative. Think about it: teacher, parent, business person, Congress person! Our job is to suck up our complaints and embark on the long road to raise the educational stakes for all our children.