April 2014 – Vol. 26 No. 8

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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EQuIP Rubric for Science Released

Posted: Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric for Lessons & Units: Science was released April 11, 2014. The Rubric provides criteria by which to measure the alignment and overall quality of lessons and units with respect to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The purpose of the Rubric is to (1) provide constructive criterion-based feedback to developers; (2) review existing instructional materials to determine what revisions are needed; and (3) identify exemplars/models for teachers’ use within and across states.

This document was developed in response to the recognition among educators that while curriculum and instruction will need to shift with the adoption of the NGSS, there is currently a lack of high-quality, NGSS-aligned materials. The power of the rubric is in the feedback it provides curriculum developers and in the productive conversations educators can have while evaluating materials.  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.

CSTA Member Phil Lafontaine Retires from State Service

Posted: Monday, April 14th, 2014

by Jessica Sawko

On Thursday, April 10, 2014 CDE Staff, friends, and colleagues of CSTA member Phil Lafontaine gathered to celebrate his incredible career as a science educator and state employee of the California Department of Education, and to wish him an enjoyable retirement. There were many CSTA members in attendance to celebrate Phil and his contributions to education, and science education in particular. Phil was presented with several retirement gifts, including a customized San Francisco Giants jersey, and a Senate Resolution honoring his career and service. 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.

Next Generation Science Standards State Rollout Symposium Dates and Locations Announced

Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Updated April 8, 2014

K-12 Alliance/WestEd, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, and the California Department of Education Presents: Next Generation Science Standards State Rollout Symposium #1.

Join science leaders at the first of a series of statewide professional learning symposia exploring the philosophy, design, and initial implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 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.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate: Evaluating Negotiation in an Elementary Science Classroom

Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

by Mason Kuhn

Engaging students in negotiation with their peers is considered a central motivation for recent national policy recommendations (National Research Council, 2011) and has been a focus of much scholarship in science education (e.g. Bergland and Reiser, 2009 & Hand, 2008). In the Next Generation Science Standards under the heading “Science and Engineering Practices,” the term “Engaging in Argument From Evidence” appears in almost every standard. However, most literature on negotiation focuses on theory, where little focuses on the topic of negotiation as related to science teaching and learning. 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.

NGSS Implementation Rollout – Seeking Teams of Teacher Leaders and Administrators

Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Laura Henriques
Updated April 8, 2014

This month’s issue of CCS focuses on biology and chemistry. Articles in this issue highlight some of the challenges around teaching these topics as we move towards Common Core and NGSS implementation. Jeanine Wulfenstein points out that the ideas are often abstract and difficult for students to grasp. These topics include a large number of vocabulary words that can get in the way of understanding, especially for English learners and students with special needs. Barbara Woods points out how discrepant events can be used to motivate and engage students by including the wow factor.  Both articles provide us with teaching strategies that engage and support students while incorporating aspects of NGSS and Common Core.

I do not think any of us could teach chemistry (or other abstract topics) without using models (one of the NGSS science and engineering practices). A discrepant event or surprising moment causes us to ask questions (another of the science and engineering practices). These questions are followed by investigations, tentative explanations and more investigations as students and teachers try to make sense of natural phenomena (even more science and engineering practices!). This approach puts the student-developed models to the test. Adjustments need to be made and the model gets refined. As they explain relationships, cause and effect, and try to make sense of the science they are seeing, they are meeting Common Core standards and science standards. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

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