Common Core test is on track, State Board told

Four states have encountered serious glitches and system meltdowns over the past several weeks as they have moved their own state assessments online. But the head of the state-led consortium creating the Common Core tests for California and two dozen other states expressed confidence Wednesday that his organization is working closely with states and taking precautions to avoid significant problems.

Willhoft,  at the State Department of Education on Wednesday, said he foresaw no major obstacles to rolling out the completed Common Core assessment in two years.  Photo by John Fensterwald.

Willhoft, at the State Department of Education on Wednesday, said he foresaw no major obstacles to rolling out the completed Common Core assessment in two years. Photo by John Fensterwald.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is one of two state consortiums – the other is PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) – that is committed, under a federal contract, to introduce the much-anticipated computer-based assessment in the spring of 2015. Students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 will be tested in English language arts and math.

“We are on schedule and ready to roll,” Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft said in an interview after testimony before the State Board of Education.

The consortium has posted minimum computing requirements and a bandwidth calculator that schools can use to measure capacity. It has also said that it would supply paper-and-pencil versions of the assessments for the first three years. Willhoft predicted that some schools in California may decide to do both in the transition, trying computer-based tests in some grades, paper and pencil in others. (The paper version will cost $10 to $12 per student more to administer.)

“We are doing all we can to safeguard against those challenges” that other states have experienced, he said. “We have confidence in being able to implement effectively, because of the care in pressure-testing items and software.”

The consortium is wrapping up a three-month pilot test involving 1 million students in 5,000 schools – about 10 percent of the Smarter Balanced students – who are taking 5,000 test questions and doing more complex, multi-step performance tasks. California’s 3.5 million students in the grades that will be tested comprise one third of the consortium’s students.

On May 29 – mark your calendars, parents – Smarter Balanced will post a practice exam online that will give teachers and the public a more extensive look at the types of questions that students will be tested on in two years. A year from now, in spring 2014, there will be a larger field test for 2.5 million students – a quarter of the students in Smarter Balanced states – of the full 45,000 items that contractors for the consortium are producing. Based on those results, evaluators will define performance levels (proficient, advanced, basic, below basic) for the questions and the overall scores for the actual test. The consortium hasn’t decided if state scores will be released for the field test. State Board member Sue Burr said Wednesday she would discourage it, in order to “lower the fear factor” among schools and districts that are now beginning to prepare for Common Core.

California is one of 21 governing states (in green) of Smarter Balanced, with four more states in a lesser, advisory role. The star indicates that the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, & Student Testing or CRESST   at UCLA will administer the program, starting in 2014-15.

California is one of 21 governing states (in green) of Smarter Balanced, with four more states in a lesser, advisory role. The star indicates that the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, & Student Testing, or CRESST, at UCLA will administer the program, starting in 2014-15. Source: Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (Click to enlarge)

Willhoft said that along with giving an initial run-though experience for schools, the results of the pilot test this spring should answer key questions for moving forward:

  • Do the performance tasks involving real-world problem solving – the heart of the assessment and what will distinguish it from current standard multiple-choice tests – actually work well?
  • Can computers be used to score open-ended questions? Willhoft said that he anticipates that the more complex tasks, involving writing and detailed explanations of work, will be hand-scored, mostly by teachers.
  • Can bias, like improper assumptions of prior knowledge that lower-income students may not have, be avoided in writing items and tasks?
  • Can students use online tools? Several board members focused on this issue during Willhoft’s presentation. Aida Molina said that those schools rich in computer resources compared with those that lack them raise an equity issue. Will test results reflect a lack of knowledge or difficulties that some students have in knowing how to work the computer? she asked.

In the interview, Willhoft downplayed the computer skills gap. The amount of training needed to do the test is minimal, basically how to use a mouse and use arrow keys. “Few students have never had an experience (with a computer) of any kind,” he said, including a computer game. The practice tests will remain online for two years, providing further exposure, he said.

The minimal computing requirement for a 600-student school will be a computer lab with 30 computers, with students taking the assessment over a 10- to 12-week period. (Some experts have questioned how students can be compared over such a long testing window.)

It’s not certain that California will introduce the Smarter Balanced assessments for accountability purposes in spring 2015. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson supports it, as does State Board President Michael Kirst. Last week, the Assembly Education Committee passed AB 484, which Torlakson authored, establishing the 2014-15 year for introducing the assessment while suspending some state standardized tests in 2013-14 to free districts to prepare for Common Core. At the State Board meeting on Wednesday, Sherry Griffith, interim assistant executive director for the Association of California School Administrators, also called for moving ahead now with Smarter Balanced.

But Senate Education Committee Chair Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, has introduced SB 247, which would extend the current California Standards Tests and push back Smarter Balanced tests for two years, out of recognition that many cash-strapped districts have only begun to train teachers in the new standards and haven’t yet bought materials.

Last week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was the latest leader to call for a moratorium on using results of Common Core assessments for teacher evaluations and judging schools. One option, which would require federal approval, would set 2014-15 as a base year for Common Core assessments, without penalizing schools and districts for the scores.

Two other issues raised during Willhoft’s presentation are worth noting:

  • Willhoft said that Smarter Balanced would create an Algebra I test that could be given to 8th graders. That responds to one concern advocates of algebra in middle school had: the lack of an assessment to go with a new Common Core algebra course. However, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Deb Sigman said she doubted the assessment would be ready by 2014-15.
  • The Smarter Balanced tests are expected to be at least twice as expensive as the multiple-choice California Standards Tests, because about a quarter of the test – the more complex performance tasks – must be scored by hand. CSTs cost about $13 per student; Smarter Balanced tests will cost around $26 per student, Sigman projected. This includes a large-state discount, applying to states with more than 1 million students, for the development of the items, Willhoft said.


Filed under: Common Core, Curriculum, Hot Topics, Reforms, State Education Policy, Technology, Testing and Accountability

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41 Responses to “Common Core test is on track, State Board told”

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  1. el on May 13, 2013 at 8:51 am05/13/2013 8:51 am

    • 000

    One question that as far as I know isn’t answered is what will happen to schools who are in Program Improvement and who are obligated to Improve Or Else. How can we even know whether they improved or declined (even if we agreed that was the right way to evaluate schools)? Will everyone’s clock be reset starting with the new test, or will someone pretend that a totally different test on totally different learning criteria can be normed back to the old scores?


    • Manuel on May 13, 2013 at 9:41 am05/13/2013 9:41 am

      • 000

      El, you are being willfully obdurate (welcome to the club!).

      I have not checked, but is “Program Improvement” a creature of the Legislature or the State Board of Education? Where is the law that defines its process?

      Your question has made me wonder when was it created? Does it depend only on the CST scores from 2002 forward or did it include the SAT-9 and CAT-6 tests given between 1999 and 2002 (and possibly up to 2004)?

      I am of the impression that this madness started with the Public School Accountability Act of 1999. Am I right or simply horribly misinformed?

  2. TransParent on May 11, 2013 at 10:27 am05/11/2013 10:27 am

    • 000

    Where is Pogo? What’s that about having seen the enemy and the enemy is us? Has anyone bothered to think about how to help families understand how to interpret these new “now-we’ve-got-it-right” assessments?

    Below is a link to a piece I wrote over two years ago decrying the footnote that families actually are in this process… the hell with Pogo, where is the Firesign Theatre (“pull the curtain, Fred”?


    • John Fensterwald on May 11, 2013 at 11:43 am05/11/2013 11:43 am

      • 000

      TransParent: On May 29, Smarter Balanced with post a practice test for parents/students/skeptics to take. It will be up for two years. It’s a good place for parents to start, then ask their schools what they’re doing to prepare kids for what will likely be a more interesting and challenging test than they’re used to with CSTs.

      • paul muench on May 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm05/12/2013 3:31 pm

        • 000

        The SB website already has some sample questions. I took a look because I wanted to see how they would grade open ended questions. As of 2-4 weeks ago SB only had the capability to grade multiple choice answers. Since then I think I’ve read that the open ended questions are likely to be graded by people (teachers if I remember correctly). So will grading standards and practices also be available on the 29th?

    • Manuel on May 12, 2013 at 3:02 pm05/12/2013 3:02 pm

      • 000

      Pogo is, I believe, dead. 😉

      How could you expect these Grand and Powerful Wizards to include parents in this when they themselves have no idea what is going on at schools because principals have been told to increase scores or else?

      I dare say their interpretation of these assessments is actually invalid given the myriad manipulations of the test taking process. Hence, their attempts to explain it to parents would be akin to the pronouncement by an LAUSD official that there must be simultaneous grade deflation and inflation when the scores don’t match the classroom marks.

      (And this reference to the Firesign Theatre is way too obscure!)

  3. Manuel on May 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm05/10/2013 9:11 pm

    • 000

    Given the myriad problems with following this mandate, why are teachers and administrators continuing with this charade? Because if they don’t they are “insubordinate?”

    When will a courageous school board member introduce a motion to stop administering the tests? As Bea said, if the Legislature (or is it the State Superintendent?) wants the testing to go on, they should pay for it (and not gut the rest of the education budget in the process!!). If the resources are not there, Districts should refuse to go along.

    I also agree with Bill Younglove: it must be piloted first. And those participating in the pilot should not be forced to do both CST and SBAC. They should be given a waiver on the API.

    Absent that, teachers and administrators should be subversive and get parents to opt their kids out of testing.

    To the barricades, Citizens!


    • navigio on May 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm05/10/2013 11:19 pm

      • 000

      ¡Oralé! You’ve been reading my mind again. Just today I was thinking how ridiculous it sounds to be arguing to shorten the school year to save money by removing instructional time while continuing to leave testing time in the year. So the time spent testing is actually better for the students than instructional time? That’s insane.

      • Manuel on May 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm05/12/2013 2:48 pm

        • 000

        Speaking of taking too much time by testing, today, I read in the LA Times an article about a teacher who is alleged to have cheated by helping his students pass the CST. (,0,4150620.story). The spin is the usual: Deasy is right and the teacher must be fired.

        But if you read the actual report from the administrative hearing panel (, you’ll find out that the teacher was spending ONE hour a day in test prep from October to May on orders of the local principal! We are not talking about the time taken by testing alone, we are talking about one sixth of the day spent on test preparation, which doesn’t necessarily mean “teaching to the standards” but teaching test taking methods.

        After years of doing this, it would not be surprising if the teacher (and others also accused) got very good at teaching test taking strategies. The kids passed but it does not mean they learn the material and it is not surprising that the middle school teachers started to complain. But this is what the principal wanted: a higher API, come hell or high water.

        Interestingly, the District botched their investigation and were able to find only one student who would attest that there was help during the CST. But the panel ruled that, if that was the case, the teacher should have been told not to do it again, etc., and life would have gone on. Instead, Deasy wants to take the matter to Superior Court.

        The findings talk about how the “helping” given by the teacher deprived this particular student from learning the curriculum. I would be more concerned about the student being deprived of actually learning by being taught test taking strategies instead. If I was a parent, I would be very concerned about this.

        Test prep of this magnitude is supposed to be prohibited by this section of the Ed. Code:

        60611. (a) A city, county, city and county, district superintendent
        of schools, or principal or teacher of any elementary or secondary
        school, including a charter school, shall not carry on any program of
        specific preparation of pupils for the statewide pupil assessment
        program or a particular test used therein.
        (b) A city, county, city and county, district superintendent of
        schools, principal, or a teacher of an elementary or secondary
        school, including a charter school, may use instructional materials
        provided by the department or its agents in the academic preparation
        of pupils for the statewide pupil assessment if those instructional
        materials are embedded in an instructional program that is intended
        to improve pupil learning.

        Yet, this is not mentioned at all in the findings of the panel. I guess it was outside the scope of their duties. But what if it goes to a full trial?

        • John Fensterwald on May 12, 2013 at 4:26 pm05/12/2013 4:26 pm

          • 000

          Very interesting decision, Manuel. Worth reading; thanks for the link. You’re right. To get the school out of Program Improvement, the teacher did test prep for an hour a day, starting in October (and presumably others on the staff, too, since it was the principal’s mandate). It worked apparently; the school’s scores rose enough for it to exit PI. The determination that the teacher, apparently well-respected by peers and liked by students, guided students during the test was made by a statistical analysis; the students’ scores plummeted the following year and had risen beyond reason during the year that the teacher taught. You’re right: Only one student definitively testified that the teacher coaxed her to change an answer, though others said they weren’t sure if this happened in exercises leading to the test or during the test itself.
          It is interesting that Supt. Deasy wants the zero tolerance policy for dismissal for cheating, but I’ve seen nothing from the district regarding the intense pressure put on teachers to do such extensive test prep and the climate that policy created.

          • Manuel on May 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm05/12/2013 10:41 pm

            • 000

            Thank you, John, for the kind words. But all I did is cite the decision which appears to hew closely to case law and the facts presented by the District. This decision gives us a glimpse into a subject fraught with emotional appeals and way too much spin. I have to state for the record that, while giving the story a definite slant, its author, Howard Blume, did us all a favor by making this decision available.

            To me, it speaks volumes that the panel remarked on the rigidity of the “investigation” questions prescribed by the District. This gives the impression that the District lawyers wanted a very particular outcome. In the end, they were hoisted by their own petard.

            As for the statistical analysis, it is very easy to spot spikes like those. My favorites are the ones produced by Locke High School specially when the make of the classes is examined (the numbers are available in a “study” published by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing). But that’s grist for another mill.

            But that is exactly my point: a cohort can be subjected to enough test prep that it will pass the test, but when that cohort is presented with a different test without the needed test prep, it will fail it. It’s like training for the written DMV driver license test and then asked to answer the questionnaire given after attending traffic school. The subject may be the same but the specific questions are not.

            There has been no public expression about the pressure to raise scores because the media has chosen not to cover it. Nobody wants to challenge the first sentence in his web page (“We are transforming LAUSD together so all youth achieve. All, not some, but all.”), which is an impossibility in the current testing system. He has stated, in at least one meeting with parents I attended, that if any LAUSD employee does not share that “vision,” there is no room for that employee in “his” LAUSD. From that to “I want raised scores or else” demands by principals is a short skip and a jump.

          • navigio on May 13, 2013 at 1:16 am05/13/2013 1:16 am

            • 000

            IMHO, the zero tolerance policy is intended as a defense against charges that the climate was intended to imply and/or cause cheating. Nightmares of Beverly Hall?

            It would be interesting to know how many SPSAs actually mention test prep as an improvement strategy, not that anyone reads those anyway.. It would also be interesting to understand how many teachers and/or SSCs do not understand that such a policy is against the law, or don’t care. My guess is nearly all.

          • Bea on May 13, 2013 at 8:40 am05/13/2013 8:40 am

            • 000

            John, this conversation about the zero tolerance policy and the actual citation would make a very interesting stand alone article. Thank you to Manuel for posting the link. It was eye-opening.

          • el on May 13, 2013 at 9:02 am05/13/2013 9:02 am

            • 000

            Using a statistical analysis in that way, while sensible, is also just another straw on the camel, in that there is really no possible path for a teacher in a low performing school to be considered successful.

            If they do well, they must have cheated.
            If they don’t do well, they must be slackers.

            We have a political atmosphere where 100% of kids are expected to be proficient, and yet, if we actually had that result, we’d be talking about cheating and grade inflation and lack of rigor.

            I read a blog rant last week about grade inflation at colleges – what a travesty it was that nearly all students were getting As and Bs and a particular university of this person’s acquaintance, and how it was all about administrators forcing grade inflation on the professors. Now, these are all students who have been selected for their readiness, are there voluntarily, and are paying money to take the class. The idea that the professor should be able to teach all these motivated adult students to proficiency was apparently laughable. The idea that if the professor could not that he might be culpable, ridiculous.

            There are days when I put my head in my hands.

          • Manuel on May 13, 2013 at 9:05 am05/13/2013 9:05 am

            • 000

            Thank you all for the thanks, but I am only passing along information.

            After I posted my response above (below?), I realized there were two more links in Mr. Blume’s story that will prove of great interest to many of you.

            One is to the declaration by Dr. Stephen Klein, the consultant that examined the data. The link is As a data-centric lab rat, Dr. Klein’s analysis seems to be rather narrow. Although I am not a court-recognized expert, I know that data can be looked at from different perspectives and intend to share them with John as I process the limited data I have. Perhaps his trained eye can see the faults in my analysis, but I think there is something there.

            The other link is to the internal report created by LAUSD: . It is the executive summary of LAUSD’s investigation and, presumably, was presented to the administrative panel. I took a cursory look at it (it was late!) and I was intrigued by its structure. Some of you may find it interesting, too.

    • Paul on May 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm05/12/2013 3:20 pm

      • 000

      Manuel, you articulate a tempting response:

      “As Bea said, if the Legislature (or is it the State Superintendent?) wants the testing to go on, they should pay for it (and not gut the rest of the education budget in the process!!). If the resources are not there, Districts should refuse to go along.”

      …but it becomes less tempting when we consider the need to balance the proposed local control funding formula with some universal expectations. It becomes even less tempting if we try to hold educational leaders (superintendents, etc.) accountable for the decisions that they have made over the past few decades.

      In the case of Common Core readiness, local districts are not innocent. As has been pointed out, Common Core teaching practices are good teaching practices, and should already have been encouraged through materials selection, ongoing professional development, and direct mentorship/supervision/evaluation of teachers. A district that chose College Preparatory Math (CPM), for example, or even a district with a traditional math curriculum bolstered by good professional development, should be well prepared. These are local decisions.

      Similarly, a district that made forward-looking investments in infrastructure, computer equipment, network access, and training/support, will be well-positioned for computer-based testing. Putting properly-supported computers into classrooms and schools was a good decision, not because testing was coming, but instead, because students need exposure to technology. Districts that remain in the Dark Ages — most districts — are not meeting student needs in this area. Again, it is a matter of local decisions/priorities.

      • Manuel on May 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm05/12/2013 4:53 pm

        • 000

        I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems to me you are raising a red herring (look! squirrel!). First of all, I am not advocating against using Common Core teaching practices, at least not now. My problem is on the imposition of a new set of practices that require a significant investment on infrastructure. There is, as far as I know, no wiggle room for this infrastructure in the budget of any district that depends on the state as its major funding source. Also, it takes money to pay for “mentorship/supervision/evaluation of teachers.” That money isn’t there, either.

        All this talk about districts making “forward-looking investments” compels me to make sure my hand is firmly holding my wallet. For example, LAUSD currently runs its schools on a very tight budget and has no room for frills like blanketing school sites with WiFi, something that would be less costly than wiring all schools with CAT-6. Ah, but it does have money to blow on things like Academic Growth over Time. Why? Because outside interests are funding the millions it costs instead of the hundreds of millions needed to run a network of 700,000 tablets, plus servers plus bandwidth plus IT personnel.

        Deasy has proposed that every student and staff be given a tablet. Presumably, these tablets will partly be used for administering the Common Core assessments, and the whole thing has been sold, as you put it, as “forward-looking investments.” The problem is that the pilot program (50,000 tablets instead of 700,000) is being paid for from bonds passed to build schools. Such buildings last upwards of 50 years whereas the tablets will be obsolete in less than five. Call me a Luddite, but that is not what I voted for.

        Dark Ages? Forgive me, but changing a textbook from a print format to a pdf (or mobi!) file inside of a tablet is not going to change the fact that most students are not going to read them, let alone do all the practice problems or the extra suggested reading.

        In my opinion, students are getting enough exposure to technology outside the school walls. But if we are really serious about this, we should instead invest in forming partnerships with local firms that use such cutting-edge technology. Such partnerships would then provide models that the students can adopt.

        But if you really really want to get serious, then metal shop should be brought back and be equipped with professional grade CNC equipment (a decent 3-axis CNC mill is $35k and up). Then the students will realize that trigonometry is very useful in the real world.

        The same could be done with auto shop.

        But we won’t because there are too many people out there who claim that schools are full of illegal aliens. And these people vote.

        • Paul on May 13, 2013 at 7:23 am05/13/2013 7:23 am

          • 000

          Manuel, I think your interpretation of “forward-looking” technology investments is different from

          Some examples:

          Most recently, I taught in a suburban Bay Area middle school built in 1970. By that time, electrical codes had been updated to specify a reasonable number of outlets, and reasonable capacity. Although there were no personal computers on the horizon, 16 mm film projectors, film strip projectors, televisions, record and tape players for small-group use (i.e., more than one center per class), low-voltage electronic experiment systems, and other plug-in devices represented the state of the art. The architect, the assistant superintendent for facilities, and the superintendent approved a design with two electrical outlets per room — a 1950s norm. Including more outlets would have been cheap then, and including more capacity, possible. Installing surface conduit 43 years later is prohibitively expensive, and the building’s electrical service probably does not have the capacity for rooms of computers. Those responsible made bad decisions, where I can imagine that some districts had leaders with foresight and brains.

          Similarly, although tablets and digital books are fabulous — and do increase student uptake if properly supported — I was talking about investments in ordinary desktop computers, initiated years ago. With those investments would have come training for teachers, and regular use by students. Districts that made those investments are better-positioned for CBT now. In none of the districts I’ve taught for have I seen anything other than one computer per classroom, equipped for attendance-taking and e-mail. The supported uses are teacher-only. Some schools did not even have a computer lab large enough for one class of students! With the advent of generic PCs, per-station hardware costs dropped below $500 years ago. Smart districts endeavored to have students use computers.

          I really want to distinguish the large, trendy, 11th-hour technology investments that you mention — most definitely a “red herring”, as you say — from the small, sensible, ongoing ones that I am advocating. I also want to emphasize that we can’t blame the state for bad decisions at the district level. Forward-looking decisions that would have been good for regular instruction would, by coincidence, have left most districts ready for CBT.

          • Bea on May 13, 2013 at 8:36 am05/13/2013 8:36 am

            • 000

            Paul, thank you for clarifying that you draw your experience from teaching in a bay area suburb. There are plenty of forward-looking districts (like mine) that simply face a different funding reality. My daughter’s school was built in 1913. Capital upgrades have gone to things like, oh, earthquake safety renovations, HVAC, handicap accessibility. There’s a decades-long punch list. It includes electrical drops and data pipelines. On the data pipeline front, we’ve been in a waiting game with E-Rate to qualify for pricing that makes the project do-able. In the meantime, local cable companies have provided patches. But they don’t serve every campus in our district. They are use-dependent, meaning classrooms and media labs operating simultaneously depress bandwidth.

            Wanting to to provide 21st century tools, we as a district have been trying, school by school to upgrade computer labs, classroom technology and district servers. After years of pizza nights, pledge drives, car washes and failed grant proposals, we have 4 up to date computer labs and a handful of classrooms with functional tech tools. Not enough to serve 12 campuses, 10,000 students. No central office or school front-offices have even made the to-do list. Our 3 part time and one full time IT staffers are stretched beyond belief. And guess what? Even if we had the budget to add hours and hire more, there isn’t a pool of qualified people in our area to provide those services.

            We’re plenty forward looking here. We’ve been making appropriate investment as resources allowed. We are a long, long way from having sufficient technology to implement the common core assessments or even the richer elements of the curriculum. Taking local districts to task for somehow failing to anticipate does not take into account the very real world, on the ground issues many face.

            California is a big place, Paul. Asking the entire state to be bay area suburban-style ready for common core is a tall task.

          • el on May 13, 2013 at 8:48 am05/13/2013 8:48 am

            • 000

            Paul… are you seriously condemning schools for insufficient forward thinking because architects did not put enough outlets in classrooms in 1970?

            As you mention, I suspect a larger problem is a lack of sufficient electrical service, which is most definitely a problem in our local school’s facilities.

            You can’t have successful use of computers without also a dedicated IT staff and an ongoing commitment to upgrade hardware and software. It also helps to have a broadband connection, which many schools still don’t have because of their locations. The machines themselves are these days one of the smallest elements of the expense, and the other expenses are mostly all ongoing.

          • el on May 13, 2013 at 9:29 am05/13/2013 9:29 am

            • 000

            I can’t reply to Bea directly, so I’m putting a highlight to her post here:

            Her district is serving 10,000 students at 12 locations with 3.5 IT staff members.

            I think you will be hard pressed to find a private business of even 1,000 employees with so few resources in IT.

            Those people don’t count as classroom resources by most measures either, so adding funding to them can be construed as “more bloat in administration” – even though if a teacher is using a computer for instruction, even a 5 minute outage is going to be hugely expensive in classroom time and function.

          • Manuel on May 13, 2013 at 9:31 am05/13/2013 9:31 am

            • 000

            Paul, thanks for the clarifications. I too have been distracted by what my District (LAUSD) did (and continues to do) when my children attended.

            Indeed, lack of electrical outlets is a major headache in schools. Every time I do a demo I make sure I take an extra long extension cord so I can access one of the two sockets found in the room.

            Yes, retrofitting such schools is very expensive but the target has moved. A true tale: about eight or so years ago, we got a brand new building in my campus. The large lecture rooms were furnished with long benches equipped with power outlets and CAT-6-wired Ethernet ports. They never connected those ports to servers and now students carry laptops, iPads, and smart phones. The power sockets sit unused. So the wireless network had to be upgraded at a nice cost, which, of course, is passed along to students under a “fee” tacked on to every class.

            This is in an environment where students provide their own hardware. No school district can do this. (The following is a composite based on the three schools my kids attended.) By the time the school was wired, they discovered that restricting to a few ports per classroom was next to useless. Then they discovered they did not have enough bandwidth to serve the iPads distributed to the teachers. And because the funding to the IT guy disappeared, the principal took over the task of maintaining the iPads’ OS. Meanwhile, student’s hardware (mostly iPods) was getting stolen. It is a never ending story.

            So, yes, relatively well-off districts in the bay area may be able to keep their head slightly above water. But what about the rest of the state? If the 800-lb gorilla (LAUSD) cannot get funding for this from the state or the local voters, what are the chances of the small, rural, 4,000 kid district in the middle of the Coachella Valley?

            To foist them with computer-based CCSS assessments seems to me beyond cruel.

            (Aside: a modern pc uses no more than 150 Watts. A typical elementary school (K-5) has about 120 students per grade or 720 students. For the sake of argument, if each student is using a pc, that works out to 108 kW. Or 900 Amps coming into the school just to service the pcs. That kind of power will require a lot of copper because you have to work in a margin of safety. And money. Can all schools run this kind of setup? Do we have enough power in the local net to handle the sudden load caused by all schools taking the test simultaneously? That’s why LAUSD wants to use tablets, but I still don’t think we have thought it all the way through. And I have not even tried to look at the bandwidth requirement.)

          • Paul on May 13, 2013 at 10:07 am05/13/2013 10:07 am

            • 000

            Bea, your school is far older than the norm in California, and is not representative. Even so, districts have been eligible to apply for many large state school construction bonds and other financing programs over the last few decades, and a smart school board (or a truly invested local electorate — this is not to knock your own strong commitment) would have rebuilt such an old building years ago. The mean age of a school in the western United States was 39 years in the mid-1990s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and only 25% of those schools were pre-1950s buildings.

            Regarding e-Rate, etc., Internet access is certainly useful, and necessary today, but plenty could have been accomplished years ago to familiarize teachers and students with computers and enhance instruction, with a room of PCs that were not networked to each other, let alone to the Internet. Word processing, spreadsheets, educational games, CD-ROM encyclopedias, and animated content presentations, as originally introduced, did not depend on internal or external networking.

            El, I do fault district leaders from the late 1960s/early 1970s for not requesting enough electrical outlets or electrical capacity. I listed some of the then-new instructional technologies that should already have been considered. As for computer hardware costs, my whole point is that they are minimal and not a barrier. I’ve said all along that adequate support, training, and experience are necessary. Districts that started introducing computers to students a years ago, for the sake of improving instruction, are more likely to have built up those functions and competencies than districts that are starting today, just for the sake of Common Core testing (or worse, so that they can brag about having one tablet per child).

            I was attending a public elementary school, and programming Apple IIs, in the very early 1980s. If anything, the public education sector has lost the technical competence that was developing in that decade.

            Perhaps this example will convey my frustration with educational leaders who lack technological vision. I was interviewing in 2010 at a middle school located a stone’s throw from YouTube headquarters. This math job involved 4 periods of “computer skills” and 1 period of remedial algebra. I mentioned my experience teaching computer programming to young people. The principal — a long-standing leader in a school that was remarkably successful (800+ API for a predominantly minority population) — dismissed this off-hand. He said, “We do NOT do programming in this school.” (He was also condescending about it, which suggested a generational divide; I was in my mid-30s at the time, he, in his 50s. I was spoken to like a naive 22-year-old. Ironically, such a person would be very unlikely to have acquired skills for programming, or for teaching programming!)

            He might have been a very successful principal, but in the computer field, he did not know what he was talking about. Bringing up LOGO (historic, for young students) or Scratch (current, for young students) or Bootstrap (current, for middle-grades students) would have been futile. Unfortunately, people like this are the principals, assistant superintendents, and superintendents who set the priorities. Few are visionaries, and too few took steps that would have had the side effect of preparing schools and districts for computer-based Common Core testing.

          • el on May 13, 2013 at 10:07 am05/13/2013 10:07 am

            • 000

            We need more levels of replies!

            Excellent comment from Manuel on infrastructure.

            Schools that are far from everywhere and in demanding terrain may need substantial community upgrades to bring in the needed quantity of power and bandwidth.

  4. Chris on May 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm05/10/2013 7:37 pm

    • 000

    Is Common Core really on track? As a teacher at a site where pilot testing took place and students recently finished the CSTs along with teachers who have endured many hours of CCSS training, it appears the answer is yes. Upon a closer look, I would say no. How are sites going to accommodate the prolonged computerized testing, especially in light that some of our students use mobile devices instead of computers and do not have the necessary computer skills to navigate the testing. Where are sites going to get the funds for upgrading the infrastructure so that the computerized tests can be administered. Nowhere in the SBAC FAQ does it mention that sites will receive funds to upgrade. Also having gone through extensive training which would require the use of countless reams of paper to implement in the classroom, I wonder how if any of this is accounted for in the future budgets of districts.

    Although I agree with the rigor of the Common Core and have been using many of the so called new methods in my history teaching for many years, there is clearly a logistical and funding problem. Putting testing ahead of training and implementation is not only illogical, but unfair to schools who most likely will be judged by their respective scores as mandated by the punitive nature of NCLB.

    On a similar note how much testing do our students have to endure? For those schools that have piloted the SBAC, and then have to take the CST a month and half later, how much is too much? Between the six days of testing for the CST and the one week for the SBAC pilot along with the many assessments that the students take during the normal part of the school year, how much instructional time is lost?

    Finally in reference to the two bills in the Assembly 484 and Senate 247, as an 8th Grade US History teacher, I would be overjoyed if the 8th Grade US History assessment which is actually a test on 6th, 7th, and 8th grade content would be removed. Testing students on three years worth of content, of which the 6th and 7th grade content make up 50% of the History-Social Science test is not only illogical, but highly unfair to students who are not tested in any other subject as such. If the legislatures were to remove the test it would free up to three more weeks of instruction.


    • John Fensterwald on May 10, 2013 at 8:43 pm05/10/2013 8:43 pm

      • 000

      Chris: Regarding one point that you raised, the Department of Education will seek a waiver next year for those schools that do the field test from also having to do the CSTs, recognizing that it would put such a heavy testing load on students. CDE is asking the feds to allow the state to use the 2012-13 scores for 2013-14 for accountability purposes.

  5. Bill Younglove on May 10, 2013 at 7:39 am05/10/2013 7:39 am

    • 000

    According the CTA’s Dean Vogel, the implementation of the 1997 California Content Standards was some $10,000,000,000. Where, pray tell, will the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) folks get the cash for this round of accountability measures? The question, however, is, to me, really, first things first. Piloting, field testing, AND refining the assessments? Creating curricular frameworks aligned to the Standards? Publishing and disseminating textbooks and instructional materials, so aligned? Establishing and offering professional development? Making sure that sufficient technology is up and running? Providing adequate time for all of the foregoing. Finally, making sure that the CCSS backers (public, private, whatever) put their money where their “…college and career [preparation] to compete in the global economy” mouths are? THEN, testing. And, finally, determining accountability?
    Bill Younglove

  6. Bea on May 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm05/9/2013 4:55 pm

    • 000

    Scampering down into the weeds with El (hi!):

    Tests taken online are supposedly adaptive, increasing or decreasing in difficulty according to recorded responses. Paper tests are static. How can we draw valid comparisons between classrooms, schools, districts, states when the playing field is dynamic?

    What kind of instructional disruption can we expect when 30 kids at at time are missing 10-15 hours of instruction over a 12 week period? Our high schools have 30 computer labs shared between 1500 students. Either we need to double our lab, or we’re looking at a 6 month testing window. And, hello? The kid that gets tested at week 32 is going to have one heck of an advantage over the kid tested at week 20. And Mr. Duncan would like that factored into the teacher’s evaluation how?

    Our district tried to pilot the test, using the issued guidelines only to find that they had been recently downgraded. Our newly upgraded computers were now too “new” to run the assessments. Anyone who has tried to back down OS and browsers installations will sympathize.

    As for a child’s facility with computer technology, they are indeed fast learners. But is that what we want to measure? Having watched recent immigrant kids or kids from homeless families, be assured, their deficits far exceed those we already recognize in the affluence gap.

    After years of cutbacks, we’re left with a district budget that is 97% personnel costs (almost no IT staff). The finger in the breeze estimate for the required infrastructure, data pipeline, hardware to implement the tests and outfit classrooms to take advantage of the “depth” of the curriculum is about 3000% of the remaining budget.

    As a PTA mom, I can tell you there aren’t enough cars to wash to raise that kind of dough. A bond isn’t appropriate for buying computers and a parcel tax won’t pass the laugh test in most districts.

    To meet the requirements of the state adopted common core, we’re going to have to abandon our own priorities of small class sizes, libraries and a bit of art and music for our kids. Sure, we’d like whizbang technology too, but it’s 5th or 6th on our list of highest needs.

    So legislators, if you’re reading this, listen up: we’re dying out here trying to keep our schools afloat (we all know Prop 30 just stemmed the hemorrhaging). If you want us to implement the curriculum and assessments in 2014, 15 or 2047, y’all need to pay for it.


    • el on May 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm05/10/2013 3:03 pm

      • 000

      Great comment, Bea.

      So the magic on the computers is going to be programs like Puppet and Chef that will let you manage a whole fleet of computers remotely from a single master recipe. They’re pretty sweet if you have someone fluent in the technology, a big data pipe between all the necessary nodes, and a nice big storage repository to keep your data safely while it’s not on the machines.

      This technology brings it from completely ridiculous and undoable and into the land of the possible. But, the people who know how to run these systems are in high demand and well paid, and it requires infrastructure that most schools don’t have.

      Here’s an intro to tools used for servers, which is fairly clear. There are other tools for desktops as well:

    • Paul on May 10, 2013 at 5:06 pm05/10/2013 5:06 pm

      • 000

      Hello, Bea.

      The idea behind adaptive testing is that the computer asks harder and harder questions, until the student starts making mistakes. The turning point determines the student’s score. Adaptive testing is used for all sorts of tests whose scores have to be compared, such as graduate school admission tests (GRE, GMAT, etc.).

      On the question of technology budgets, I agree that the cost of computers, infrastructure upgrades (e.g. electrical outlets), network access, and technical support will be substantial. My belief is that most California schools will never be ready for computerized testing, and that paper testing will be offered as a permanent option.

      Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between operating and capital expenses. Computer equipment and infrastructure upgrades will be funded from the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget that you mention. Grants, bond revenue, categorical program revenue (while categorical programs still exist), and proceeds from the sale or lease of surplus school sites, are possible sources of capital. The amounts available in your district may be small, but capital needs don’t really compete with operating needs, such as the personnel budget.

      • Bea on May 13, 2013 at 8:22 am05/13/2013 8:22 am

        • 000

        Paul, I understand the principles of adaptive testing. My point is that among the many accountability measures standardized test scores are supposed to address are comparisons between schools, districts and, once the common core is widely applied, states. Given that the results of an online adaptive test and a static paper test are going to be measuring different things, how will those comparisons be drawn and what can they accurately reflect.

        As for the difference between capital and general funds, infrastructure expenses in our district do come out of capital budgets, but computer hardware with a life expectancy of 3-5 years does not.

        We are looking at vastly different abilities statewide to float bonds. Categorical funds are already stretched to their limits in most districts. Grants are not available to fund computer purchases, at least not on the scale required.

        • Paul on May 13, 2013 at 9:23 am05/13/2013 9:23 am

          • 000

          Thanks for your response, Bea.

          It not correct to say that “the results of an online adaptive test and a static paper test are going to be measuring different things”. Computer-adaptive and paper-based versions of the same test are designed to provide comparable scores.

          Which specific test items (questions) a student answers does not matter. As items are introduced and tested, their comparability with other items is determined. (Old paper-based versions of the GRE, for example, included an entire dummy section that was there just to determine the comparability of proposed new test items.) In addition, the scoring of the entire test is adjusted to ensure that paper-based and computer-adaptive tests taken by the same people (or the same classes of people, with each individual randomly assigned to paper or to the computer) yield equivalent scores.

          The GRE was offered on paper and in computer-adaptive form for some time, and the comparability of scores from both versions was studied extensively. That research is more than 15 to 20 years old now, and was conducted on a discretionary basis, for a private organization. Surely, a series of tests being developed in 2013, for use by public schools throughout the country, will be developed according to the latest and best psychometric standards.

  7. el on May 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm05/9/2013 1:55 pm

    • 000

    The link mentioning glitches in other states is behind a paywall, so I took the liberty of providing some alternatives to give people a sense of what has happened there:

    “In Oklahoma, Minnesota, Kentucky and Indiana, students were taking tests online when servers crashed and they were “kicked offline,” the Associated Press reported in this story. In other cases, the loading time for questions was slow, students were in the middle of answering a question when they went offline, and some students couldn’t even log into the exams in the first place, according to this Education Week story.”

    Apparently kids were crying, they were so upset. In these cases, some of the tests were high school graduation exams, so very high stakes.

    “The problems were not related to a single test administrator but, rather, several — Indiana and Oklahoma have contracts with CTB/McGraw-Hill, Kentucky with ACT Inc., and Minnesota with the American Institutes for Research.”

    So it’s not just one vendor. Certainly having hundreds of thousands of users all hitting your server at once is a difficult problem and some sort of learning curve is alas, fairly typical for most applications as you scale up in usage.

    Just for clarity, the problems experience here were problems on the server/provider end, and quite in addition to the questions that I raised which were school-level issues.

  8. el on May 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm05/9/2013 1:45 pm

    • 000

    Although I’m not a huge fan of testing, if we are going to test, I am saddened to see that science will no longer be tested. One of the pleasant surprises when my daughter started school was how much more science was part of the elementary school curriculum than when I was a kid. I think low performing schools in particular will face huge pressures to spend that time on tested items instead, a huge loss.


    • John Fensterwald on May 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm05/9/2013 2:17 pm

      • 000

      el: I would expect that science will be tested, although it’s not clear who will create tests for the new generation science standards that have yet to be adopted by California. That’s in the process. I would expect another consortium of states will create the new assessment — and come up with a better way of measuring science skills and knowledge.
      I believe there is sentiment on the State Board to make science a meaningful part of the new API, but that’s a long way off. Right now,in many schools, science gets the short shrift because it’s a minor part of API.

    • Di on May 10, 2013 at 11:27 am05/10/2013 11:27 am

      • 000

      Science will have to continue to be tested until NCLB/ESEA is reauthorized as there are science assessments required by that. It just won’t be covered by this group developing the assessments.

  9. el on May 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm05/9/2013 1:35 pm

    • 000

    Couple of down-in-the-weeds concerns to mull over.

    “In the interview, Willhoft downplayed the computer skills gap. The amount of training needed to do the test is minimal, basically how to use a mouse and use arrow keys. ”

    I think something to be aware of is that the ability to use the mouse and arrow comfortably – if that’s all it is (weren’t there supposed to be free text entry questions?) – while it may be something that most can do with “minimal” training, people who do not use computers every day are substantially slower than people who do. This extra time is a factor when the tests are not infinite time, and they also make taking an exam tiring, affecting performance at the end of the test even if it is apparently finished.

    Sitting and watching my daughter do a task on the computer when she was a 4th and 5th grader was maddening, like watching paint dry. Everything. Took. So. Very. Inexplicably. LONG! :-)

    Presumably the exams are meant to be closed book, closed network, closed Google. If these computers are online or attached to any network, and if you’re planning to enforce that security, then it will be necessary most likely to completely wipe and rebuild computers used for testing for the purpose of the test, then rewipe and rebuild them back with the original data and configuration for use as curriculum machines. This means (1) that you need serious computer techs in every school (2) that the 12 week window effectively means that you’d not be able to use the testing computers for curriculum for 1/3 of the school year and (3) that you’d need some sort of audit to ensure that the computers were properly prepared and firewalled for the exams.

    What happens if a school loses network connectivity during an exam?

    Not every school has even one full time IT person; what I don’t know is what percentage of schools will need to add IT staff to meet these goals. Since testing will be happening at the same time, it’s not like you’ll be able to share or rotate them too much; you’d need someone on site when the testing was happening. I think it’s probably about right to be budgeting at least IT position for every school campus in order to implement this effectively.

    I have significant concerns that these details are not being widely considered, especially not at the budget level.

  10. Richard Moore (@infosherpa) on May 9, 2013 at 11:08 am05/9/2013 11:08 am

    • 000

    Thank God we’re on track! No more wasting precious money on libraries, books and librarians. Now we can spend it on tests and the computers that administer tests! We are SO lucky and foresighted and just dang happy about how children will spend their formative years!!

  11. Paul Muench on May 9, 2013 at 5:26 am05/9/2013 5:26 am

    • 000

    Wow, almost three months of testing. That’s about a third of the school year. Is the testing divided such that students will be tested on the final third of learning at the end of the testing period?


    • navigio on May 9, 2013 at 8:06 am05/9/2013 8:06 am

      • 000

      Texas just did away with about 2/3 of the tests required for high school exit. Maybe CA is hoping to take over the #1 spot in time spent testing… we can be #1 in something! 😉

  12. Paul Muench on May 9, 2013 at 5:12 am05/9/2013 5:12 am

    • 000

    It seems that the CORE NCLB waiver may divide the state on delaying the new tests, given the waiver districts have agreed to teacher evaluations based partially on test scores. The non-waiver districts may prefer to just get started earlier as they will likely all be failing AYP. I assume that the state has to give only one test even if the waiver is approved, true?

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