By Frank Wells
California’s move to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2014-15 will bring major changes not only to curriculum content, but also to the way student learning is assessed. As states grapple with transition issues like finding (and paying for) new texts and other resources that match a new curriculum, many teachers are clamoring for information on how to prepare for the coming changes.
CTA conference sessions and local trainings on the subject have been packed, sometimes beyond capacity (the CTA Summer Institute strand on the CCSS is expected to fill quickly — see sidebar). Fortunately, there are additional resources available now, with extensive support coming from the group behind the new assessments, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
SBAC is one of two multistate member groups being funded by the U.S. Department of Education to develop assessment systems aligned to the Common Core standards. California is among 27 states taking part in the Smarter Balanced effort. The next-generation assessments being developed show promise of revolutionizing the content, methodology, and even usefulness of what, to many, has become representative of what’s hurting education today: standardized testing.
One of the innovations Smarter Balanced is bringing to assessment is the use of computer adaptive technology, which is touted as more precise and more efficient than current testing models. Teachers and schools can get results from computerized assessments in weeks rather than months, and can use information from optional interim assessments throughout the year to adjust their instruction. The use of technology also makes it easier for assessments to move beyond traditional multiple-choice questions.
Some of the sample items available now on the Smarter Balanced website (www.smarterbalanced.org) even use simple animation to set up a question, offering visual representations to enhance traditional math problems.
The Smarter Balanced system does not completely abandon traditional test questions or methods. While still including familiar multiple-choice-format problems, the new system expands on them to show more fully not only what students know, but what they can do with that knowledge.
The system includes the following types of items:
- Selected response items: Students choose one or more responses from a set of options.
- Technology enabled and enhanced items: In addition to more variety in the way questions are asked, such as through the use of multimedia, technology will allow students to respond in new ways, such as editing text or drawing an object.
- Constructed response items: Students will produce text or numerical responses, rather than just choosing among possible answers. In some cases they will be asked to demonstrate how they arrived at their responses.
- Performance tasks: Students will demonstrate the ability to integrate knowledge across multiple standards. These tasks will vary in length and complexity, and may require students to develop their answers based on multiple sources and media. For example, students might be asked to read a short story or article, watch a short video, listen to an audio clip, or review research data, then answer basic content questions and conclude by writing an essay arguing for a conclusion they have derived from studying those sources.
Transitions can be troublesome
Although the shift to Smart Balanced has the potential to greatly improve assessment, the move does raise concerns about the availability of required technology and the ability of students to adapt to a testing model that is far more comprehensive than anything they’ve seen before. To that end, Smarter Balanced developed a Technology Readiness Tool and several other online resources to help districts prepare.
This spring 1,400 California schools and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are participating in a scientific sample selected by SBAC and the California Department of Education (CDE) to pilot assessment questions. Over 1,700 other sites are also participating as volunteers.
Teachers Association of Long Beach member Cliff Kusaba and Vallejo Education Association member Daly Jordan-Koch serve on a national group of educators receiving regular updates from SBAC.
Major changes to both curriculum and student assessment are not going to come without glitches. While supportive of the Common Core, CTA is urging the CDE to move the state sensibly and at a realistic pace, and to make sure districts have the resources needed to adapt to the new system.
Take a closer look at transition and implementation issues. Read feedback from members in schools participating in this spring’s pilot.