March 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 7

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson Proposes New Statewide Testing System

Posted: Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Common Core Assessments to Focus on Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today recommended shifting the focus of standardized testing in California to require students to think critically, solve problems, and show a greater depth of knowledge—key tenants of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In a report to the Governor and Legislature, Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System, Torlakson made a dozen recommendations that would fundamentally change the state’s student assessment system, replacing the paper-and-pencil based Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program assessments with computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) starting in the 2014‒15 school year.

“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore, and it’s time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” Torlakson said.

“As a teacher, what’s most exciting is that these new tests will serve as models for the kind of high-quality teaching and learning we want in every classroom every day,” Torlakson continued. “The concept is simple but powerful: if our tests require students to think critically and solve problems to do well on test day, those same skills are much more likely to be taught in our classrooms day in and day out.”

Torlakson’s report was mandated by Assembly Bill 250 (Brownley, D-Santa Monica), which the State Superintendent sponsored, to bring school curriculum, instruction, and the state assessment system into alignment with the CCSS. The state’s existing STAR Program assessments are scheduled to sunset July 1, 2014.

California is one of 45 states and three territories that formally have adopted the CCSS for mathematics and English‒language arts. The proposed revisions to align the state’s assessment system with the new standards mark a key milestone in implementing the Common Core.

California serves as a governing state in SBAC, a multistate‒led group that has been working collaboratively to develop a student assessment system aligned with the CCSS.

The SBAC was designed to meet federal- and state-level accountability requirements and provide teachers and parents with timely and accurate information to measure and track individual student growth.

Among the 12 recommendations is the suspension of particular STAR Program assessments for the coming school year unless the exams are specifically mandated by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or used for the Early Assessment Program (EAP). This would suspend STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course exams at the high-school level.

Torlakson also recommends that the state provide formative diagnostic tools developed by SBAC to all schools, which would provide teachers and schools with the option of receiving continuing informal feedback on the progress of students throughout the school year.

As required by AB 250, Torlakson’s recommendations reflect an assessment system that would meet the requirements of the current ESEA. But the report also puts forth several different approaches of assessment and urges policymakers to question the current regimen of testing all students, every year, in English‒language arts and mathematics.

Through work group meetings, focus groups, regional public meetings, a statewide survey, and an e-mail account specifically for public comments, thousands of stakeholders provided input to the California Department of Education regarding the state’s transition to a new assessment system.

“I extend my gratitude to the many teachers, school administrators, parents, students, business leaders, and higher education faculty for their expertise and experience that contributed to the formation of these recommendations, Torlakson said.

Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System can be found on the Statewide Pupil Assessment System Web page. More information on California’s efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards can be found on the California Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards Web page.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Engineering Brings It All Together

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

P.Ahearn_Photo_1

I am really enjoying the creativity that NGSS is awakening in teachers. Those who want to create are taking the standards (and the freedom that comes from the lack of a test) and really exploring what engages their students. I found though, that even when trying our best to match up to the expectations of NGSS, there is a feeling that we missed something. Did we remember the crosscutting concepts? Did the students engage in the practices at the level that NGSS expects? Did we get to the engineering? How about the Nature of Science? Was the content deep enough to really teach the DCI to the point where it could be applied to a new situation? Was it engaging? About a real world phenomenon or problem? Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District, Co-Chair of the 2013 Conference Committee, and a member of CSTA.

Meaningful Thinking in 140 Characters or Fewer

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Jill Grace

I’ve learned the hard way that I will get “huffs”, eye-rolls, grunts, and the occasional nuclear meltdown from students if I ask them to summarize their learning in, dare I say it, a paragraph. It’s as though paragraph is a bad word and how shocking that I would ask for one in science class! I even get slammed with questions: “How many sentences to I have to write?” (why are we still asking that question in middle school?), “Do I have to use complete sentences?”, and “Do I really have to write a whole paragraph?” *teacher sigh*

First and foremost, I am a huge advocate of having students produce writing in a science class. I will also admit that this can be a challenge, and so the year that I decided to make the shift to an interactive science notebook it was glaring at me. I would be asking students for writing as a vehicle to share their thinking (in what we refer to as “outputs” in the notebook) all the time. Although we wouldn’t be able to avoid the writing, sometimes I may want to ask my students to share their thinking in a way that will avoid the drama that asking for a paragraph can sometimes generate. (Incidentally, this was all prior to implementation of the Common Core Standards – where anecdotally, in just one year, I’ve seen a big shift in student acceptance of writing outside of language arts.) Learn More…

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.

State Board to Vote on Suspension of API for 2014-2015

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The California State Board of Education will vote on the Public School Accountability Act (PSAA) Committee’s recommendation to suspend the calculation of the Academic Performance Index (API) for a second year Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Exploring the Ecosystem That Is Your Classroom

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Laura Henriques

As you read through this month’s CCS you’ll find articles about biology, professional learning, NGSS implementation tales, and finding a job. I find the juxtaposition of the articles works. When we look for a job we need to have a good fit – we need to fill a niche in the school’s ecosystem and our needs must be met. When we look at our professional learning needs we are doing a self-assessment, finding out our own needs and meeting them

Earlier this year John Speigel, Anthony Quan and Yami Shimojyo wrote an article for CCS which discussed a pathway from NGSS awareness to implementation. If we use their awareness-transition-implementation matrix to mark our efforts we can start making changes to our instruction and have a mechanism to note progress. So let’s think of our classroom as its own teaching/learning ecosystem and start modifying the system to see what positive changes we can make to student engagement and student learning. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

CSTA Legislative Update – March 2015

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Jessica Sawko

Friday, February 27, 2015 was the last day for legislators to introduce bills. As with many things with a deadline, the last days leading up to the deadline saw a flurry of activity and many bills were introduced. CSTA will be monitoring many pieces of legislation this year and will seek to have funding for NGSS implementation included in next year’s budget. Bills of note include:

AB 631 (Bonilla)Titled the “Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards Implementation Fund ActLearn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.