California parents know little about Common Core tests, survey says

April 22, 2015
caaspp sbac smarter balanced test scores results

Students take Smarter Balanced practice tests at Bayshore Elementary School in Daly City.

California schools are testing more than 3 million students this spring to measure their understanding of math and English Language Arts tied to the new Common Core State Standards. However, the majority of California’s public school parents know nothing about the new tests their children will take, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Fifty-five percent of parents said they knew nothing at all about the tests, known as the Smarter Balanced assessments, according to survey results released Wednesday

The survey also indicated that most (62 percent) California public school parents had received inadequate or no information about the Common Core State Standards, although almost the same number (57 percent) said they favored the standards. 

The survey queried more than 1,700 California adults from April 3 to 13. Results from public school parents were reported separately. 

 The California Department of Education said that it and school districts are “working hard” to educate parents about the new tests, drawn up by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. 

“But as with any new endeavor, it takes time to get the word out,” said a statement from the department. 

Less than one-third of the 3 million students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 who will take the test this year have completed the new online Smarter Balanced assessments that are tied to the Common Core, the statement said. The tests are being rolled out on a staggered basis throughout the state.

“Communication with parents about the new assessment system and efforts to improve student readiness for college and careers is a work in progress,” said Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education. “It will be an even higher priority as scores from this new assessment are released later this year.”

“Parents need to know the scores will reflect student progress on standards that are new and are only one of many indicators of a student’s progress in school,” Kirst added.

“As with any new endeavor, it takes time to get the word out,” said a statement from the California Department of Education.

The survey’s results rang true for one parent. 

“I, and other parents, have been asking our principal for the last few months for information about the new testing,” said Nancy Hsieh, whose children attend school in the San Mateo-Foster City School District, in an email.

The school has scheduled a session for next week, Hsieh said. “I’m curious to see how many people attend.”

One communications expert said spotty attendance at events informing parents about the new tests may be one reason that many are unaware of them. Several districts have held parents’ nights to inform families about the Common Core.

“I’ve been to several of these parents’ nights and attendance is relatively low,” said Neha Gohil, a senior media fellow at the nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which supports education and community projects. Gohil directs a Common Core project for which she’s developed media tool kits for school districts around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Still, she finds the lack of awareness about the tests “surprising,” given the amount of information being sent home to parents and the coverage in the media. According to the survey, 75 percent of public school parents said they had received either inadequate or no information from schools about the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by California and 42 other states.

Parents responding to the survey also appear to be uninformed about the widely held expectation that the state’s overall test scores will likely be lower than in the past. More than 70 percent of public school parents said that they believed the scores will likely be the same or higher than previous years’ scores on the completely different California Standards Tests that students had been taking for over a decade.

Students’ abilities have not changed, said David Plank, the executive director Policy Analysis for California Education, a research center based at Stanford University. Instead,“the bar has been raised” on what’s expected of students on the new Smarter Balanced assessments. The tests require students to explain how they arrived at their answers and apply critical thinking skills – a big change from what was required on the state’s previous paper-based, multiple-choice tests.

“There will very likely be a number of students who won’t get over the new bar that did get over the old bar,” Plank said.

The survey also asked the state’s public school parents to weigh in on whether they thought standardized tests in general accurately reflected students’ growth and capabilities. The majority of respondents – 62 percent – said they were “very” or “somewhat” confident that standardized tests are a good measure, while 36 percent had little or no confidence.

But the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, also revealed that California public school parents are divided on whether there is too much testing. Twenty percent of parents said there is too much testing, while 45 percent said there’s the right amount and 31 percent said there isn’t enough.

Among other poll results, 57 percent of parents said preparing students for college is the most important goal of the K-12 school system, while 61 percent said schools were doing a good or excellent job of preparing students for jobs in the workforce.

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