November 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 3

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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Celestial Highlights for 2015

Posted: Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

by Robert Victor

These monthly charts plot positions of the stars of first magnitude or brighter and the five naked-eye planets at evening or morning mid-twilight. The charts can be used to follow the comings and goings of planets and stars. This selection includes dates of peak interest, when planets appear strikingly close to each other. We hope you and your students enjoy following the planets from one night to the next surrounding these occasions!

January 2015 at dusk: Mercury approaches within 0.6 degree lower right of Venus on Jan. 10. Venus and Jupiter visible simultaneously above opposite horizons starting late in month. See also the January 2015 Sky Calendar. Follow these two brilliant planets for the next five months, until their very close pairing on the evening of June 30. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

NGSS Implementation Update: State Implementation Plan, New Assessments, LCAPs, and Curriculum Framework

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Jessica L. Sawko

There are a lot of moving parts  when it comes to implementing new state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are no exception. Two weeks ago the California Department of Education (CDE) and State Board of Education (SBE) responded to CSTA’s call to provide clarification regarding the standards that are to be included in a district’s LCAP when addressing State Priority #2. Today and tomorrow the CFCC will convene again with the writers of the NGSS Curriculum Framework to provide feedback to the writers on draft framework chapters and CSTA will be at the meetings to provide input into process. Later this week the SBE will interview candidates for appointment to the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) – the body that will pick up the work to finish the NGSS Curriculum Framework after the CFCC completes its work. Finally, next week the SBE will convene its November meeting on November 13 – 14, 2014. On the agenda for this meeting is a recommendation from CDE that the State Board approve the State Implementation Plan for NGSS – a plan which will lay the groundwork for implementation activities at the state and local level as well as for support providers like CSTA and others. Also on the agenda is a report from CDE’s assessment division with the results of the stakeholder group meetings that were held in July 2014 to inform the planning of the future statewide assessment system for science. Finally the SBE will appoint new members to the IQC. Learn More…

Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

CSTA Night at the Aquarium – NGSS Science & Engineering Showcase Presenters Announced!

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

The 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA is just one month away! If you have not already registered for what promises to be the professional learning event of the year for California science educators – it is not too late! Make plans to join more than 2,200 science teachers in Long Beach this December 4 – 6. Discounted registration rates are available through November 14, 2014. Please register today. Remember – both CSTA and NSTA members have the benefit of being able to register at member rates (a $90 savings).

If you have already made your plans to attend the Long Beach conference – please mark your conference schedules with these two CSTA events:

CSTA Night at the Aquarium of the Pacific NGSS Science & Engineering Showcase – Thursday, December 4, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Tickets are limited – purchase yours today (only $10 for CSTA members and $25 for nonmmebers – ticket price includes light food, admission into the Aquarium for the event, and one beverage). 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.

Focus on Physical Science

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Laura Henriques

As a former physics/physical science teacher, the California Classroom Science (CCS) issue focusing on physical science is always one of my favorites. I enjoy reading about lessons, labs and teaching ideas that my colleagues share in each month’s CCS, but I really enjoy reading physics and physical science lesson ideas as those apply most directly to what I teach. As with past issues of CCS, we have some great articles written by a wide variety of members on a range of topics. Sadly (for me), only a couple of them focus on physical science.

One of the physical science highlights is Padma Haldar’s article that has students doing ‘mythbuster’ activities to help them better understand the Nature of Science. This project requires students to engage in many of the science and engineering practices (they ask questions, plan and carry out investigations, analyze and interpret data, and evaluate and communicate information) and Ms. Haldar seems to be explicit in helping students understand the nature of science throughout the process. Another article in this month’s issue is Valerie Joyner’s where she shares a primary activity which focuses on the crosscutting concept of patterns. Her lesson links patterns with properties of plastic lids. As is the case with crosscutting concepts, she shares how this activity about patterns could be linked to other patterns in nature and science. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

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

Planning Professional Learning Using the NGSS Implementation Pathway Model

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by John Spiegel, Anthony Quan, and Yamileth Shimojyo

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have the ability to transform teaching and learning in the classroom. They will dramatically change how students experience science by shifting the focus from the memorization of facts to greater student engagement in the processes of science. The NGSS emphasize learning in three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. In addition, there are seven Conceptual Shifts, or Innovations, that have strong implications for teaching and learning. These shifts include the interconnected nature of science as practiced in the real world, the integration of science and engineering, the use of performance expectations, a focus on deeper understanding of content as well as application of content, and alignment to the Common Core State Standards. Teachers will ultimately be tasked with implementing the NGSS, but cannot do so without extensive time to plan and engage in professional learning. Learn More…

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.