Credit: Berkeley Unified School District
Students in California preparing for the Smarter Balanced tests.

With California students set to begin taking new Smarter Balanced tests in the Common Core State Standards this spring, state education officials are worried about how parents will view the results – especially if, as experts predict, their kids’ initial scores will be low.

“I’m not sure we have (the message) right yet,” Chief Deputy State Superintendent Richard Zeiger told members of the State Board of Education on Wednesday. The Department of Education is working on drafts of explanations of the scores that it has not yet published.

“Let’s be frank: All scores will be shifted to the left,” he said, meaning lower on the point scale, with fewer students deemed to be proficient than under the old state standards and more students scoring at basic or below basic levels. “We have to educate parents about that. It’s not that your kid got dumber; there has been a shift in systems.”

Downplaying the significance of the first year’s scores, State Board President Michael Kirst has said that it will take five more years for full implementation of the new standards, with fully trained teachers using fully developed curricula and textbooks. He and others are concerned that low scores will fuel the public’s skepticism of Common Core and teachers’ anxiety that they’ll be prematurely judged by test scores.

Last year, students from California and 16 other states belonging to the Smarter Balanced consortium took a Smarter Balanced “field,” or practice, test. Based on the results and professional educators’ judgments, Smarter Balanced created four performance levels for the test, determined by threshold points or “cut scores” at each level. Level 4 designates advanced work and Levels 1 and 2 demonstrate partial or minimal knowledge of the standards. Level 3 is roughly equivalent to proficiency, although Kirst and other officials insist on not using that term. Smarter Balanced is predicting that between 33 percent and 44 percent of students in California and elsewhere will reach the threshold for Level 3 this spring, when the formal tests are introduced.

In 2013, the last time that the California standardized tests were given, 51 percent of students overall posted a score of proficient and above in math and 56 percent of students scored proficient and above in English language arts. The scores ranged from 46 percent proficient in 3rd-grade reading to 72 percent proficient in 4th-grade math.

Kirst and advocates of Common Core argue that Common Core standards, which stress problem-solving, communication skills and conceptual understanding of math, are different, if not more rigorous, than the previous state academic standards, and new tests will be harder, too. To emphasize this point, the Legislature prohibited comparing the old and new test scores to update the Academic Performance Index (API), the state’s chief accountability measure.

From March to June, 3.2 million California students in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11 will take the Smarter Balanced end-of-year tests in math and English language arts. Nearly all will take it online, and the state Department of Education is promising that schools will receive the scores electronically between two and four weeks later. Parents will receive paper copies of the report about a month after that. It will take longer to report the scores of the 2,000 students, mainly from rural schools without adequate technology, who will take the Smarter Balanced test on paper.

Students will receive a score ranging from 2,000 to 3,000, a point system intentionally chosen to differentiate it from what other states have used. The state can choose how to present the results to parents. It could focus on a student’s raw number and emphasize the student’s growth on the scale from grade to grade – something that wasn’t possible with the old state tests. Or it could de-emphasize the raw score while focusing on which of the four performance levels the student achieved. Board members expressed different views.

“Scale scores provide a better breakdown,” Kirst said. “We need to get away from the over-focus on (performance) levels.” There’s “nothing magical” about the threshold or cut scores by level; they are imprecise, he said.

But board member Trish Williams said that performance levels provide an easily understandable indicator. Parents need to know how their children performed relative to others, she said.

Still to be determined is whether first-year Smarter Balanced scores will be used to judge schools’ and districts’ performance. The state board suspended the API for 2014-15, and in March, it will decide whether to suspend it again in 2015-16. That’s what the Association of California School Administrators, representing superintendents and principals, and Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, are seeking. They have said that there has not been enough time for teachers and districts to make the transition to the new standards for accountability purposes.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti seconded that in a letter sent to the state board this week. “Any use of the spring 2015 (Smarter Balanced) results will give the state an inaccurate picture of student and school performance,” he said.

Doug McRae, a retired standardized testing publisher from Monterey who has consistently questioned Smarter Balanced’s methodology and timetable in testimony before the state board, on Wednesday called for delaying all reporting of this spring’s Smarter Balanced scores until the state has done thorough studies to determine if the performance levels are valid and reliable, as required by state law.

The board has referred the issue of delaying the API scores to two advisory committees, which are to report back in March.

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  1. Concerned Parent 2 years ago2 years ago

    I am a parent and I believe that parents and children are not being treated with proper respect by the way our State of California and the California Department of Education have done things regarding rolling out a Smarter Balance test or ccacid or what ever acronim that is thought up. I ask all to ask why no state adopted textbook is required for common core. No text book. This means that some school districts … Read More

    I am a parent and I believe that parents and children are not being treated with proper respect by the way our State of California and the California Department of Education have done things regarding rolling out a Smarter Balance test or ccacid or what ever acronim that is thought up.

    I ask all to ask why no state adopted textbook is required for common core. No text book. This means that some school districts are leaving the textbooks in the cabinets and not using any textbooks what so ever.

    The thing is the school districts are using cost cutting by not ordering textbooks.

    The C.D.E. does not mandate state adopted textbooks in math.

    This means that math is regressing in half of all classrooms.

    It is a roll of the dice if a parent and child will get a good teacher that teaches or not.

    No accountability.

    I say, this all bodes well for charter schools.

    Charter schools will rule because of the stale and bad introduction of common core things.

    Also, grade inflation is rampant due to no accountability in what A,B,C,D is…

    And report cards are not accurate for they are all in process of being revamped.

    I say, let us fire all C.D.E. oversight people now.

    Let them go to work at some other taxpayer job.

    Concerned Parent

  2. SD Parent 2 years ago2 years ago

    All this concern that this test won't be a fair assessment of students for several years, but there's no discussion of how this impacts the ability of the districts to assess student achievement for the LCAPs. Until there is some accepted statewide assessment for determining student achievement, the districts are left to create whatever they want and use that to measure student achievement. To prepare students for the SBAC and to facilitate teacher … Read More

    All this concern that this test won’t be a fair assessment of students for several years, but there’s no discussion of how this impacts the ability of the districts to assess student achievement for the LCAPs.

    Until there is some accepted statewide assessment for determining student achievement, the districts are left to create whatever they want and use that to measure student achievement. To prepare students for the SBAC and to facilitate teacher instructional practices in Common Core, the assessments should be challenging and mirror the SBAC. However, this could make the district appear that students overall are not achieving proficiency and could have the undesired effect of amplifying achievement gaps, which go counter to the goals in the LCAP. If districts make the tests easier, more students would appear to be proficient and the achievement gaps would likely decrease, making districts appear more successful in their LCAP goals.

    I wonder what districts will choose to do…

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      You are putting a great deal of confidence into SBAC, which may or may not be justified. We will not know for some years yet. Teaching to a high quality, performance based, assessment is not necessarily a "bad" thing instructionally. SBAC was advertised as going to be "performance baed" but time, expense, and other qualifications have caused SBAC to back off an many of those claims. The perpetual problems with advertising. This is not to suggest … Read More

      You are putting a great deal of confidence into SBAC, which may or may not be justified. We will not know for some years yet. Teaching to a high quality, performance based, assessment is not necessarily a “bad” thing instructionally. SBAC was advertised as going to be “performance baed” but time, expense, and other qualifications have caused SBAC to back off an many of those claims. The perpetual problems with advertising.

      This is not to suggest that they may well be superior to the CSTs which were more traditional tests and basically drive-by, and superficial, assessments of student learning. Teaching to those would have been instructionally harmful. Take it from someone who administered them for some years.

      The fact that states across the nation adopted like assessments led the National Research Council to issue a report stating that the test based accountability system, adopted as a result of NCLB, not only did not lead to any substantive improvement in student learning, but over the course of a decade actually detracted form learning because so many schools, reacting to threats of closure, actually did teach to the tests and narrowed the curriculum. Social studies, art, music. PE, and even science were neglected to concentrate on math and language arts because they were the test scored that counted [sic]. The negative effects were most pronounced on schools where poor children were in the majority, because those were the schools most threatened by low test scores. It has also exacerbated low morale in the teaching corps.

      There is a myth that the schools were somehow “unaware” that poor and second language students were not doing well until the powers that be graced us with tests. Really? We are the ones who are actually in the classroom with the kids, who else would know better? Of course, some will claim that we (in the schools) knew and just ignored it. This, of course, flies in the face of everything we know about why teachers go into teaching. It’s to teach kids and help them learn. It’s not exorbitant salaries and extravagant pensions. The fact is, and as the National Research Council points out, achievement gaps between poor/second langue students and middle class students were closing faster before test based accountability was imposed on the schools.

      Districts may very well be able to establish criteria to evaluate LCAP progress based on teacher/district developed assessments. For example, research is very clear that student grades, based on teacher/locally developed assessments are much better predictors of success in college than the nationally administered SAT and ACT. There is no good reason they can’t be used for LCAP if phony “accountability” is not grafted unto it and consequently distort instruction and assessment.

      This should be considered an alternative at least until the time comes when SBAC can be verified as empirically valid and scientifically reliable.

  3. Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

    I've been busy with mundane tasks so I have not been able to seriously participate but this article has made me pay a bit of attention: the test can't have more than 100 questions and the score will be between 2000 and 3000 points? Does this mean that students get 2000 points for writing their names? And how do you get 1000 points for, say, 100 questions? Are each of them equal in value? And … Read More

    I’ve been busy with mundane tasks so I have not been able to seriously participate but this article has made me pay a bit of attention: the test can’t have more than 100 questions and the score will be between 2000 and 3000 points? Does this mean that students get 2000 points for writing their names? And how do you get 1000 points for, say, 100 questions? Are each of them equal in value? And how do they figure that 33 to 44% will make it past Level 3? What’s the size of the sample that defines this? Too many questions…

    And I’ll rise Doug’s question about “rational” vs “compelling” by asking what exactly defines “valid?” Just because the law says that the results must be valid does not define what that is. Valid according to whom? Doug? Me? Zeev? Caroline?

    Anyway, all I know is that when I started asking questions about what was the secret sauce in the CSTs and what should parents do to get their critters do better I got a lot of runarounds and then was shoved into stonewalls. I suspect the same will happen again.

    Deja vu all over again…

  4. M. Zollars 2 years ago2 years ago

    I've read CA state documents that the "adaptive" component of Smarter Balance will be "turned on" for the first time spring of 2015 (adaptions were turned off for the field test in 2014). If Smarter Balance is adaptive in nature, if the computer program gives different questions according to how the student answers previous questions, then HOW is this test even "standardized"? Why are schools giving un-vetted, unproven psychometric tests to students? Why … Read More

    I’ve read CA state documents that the “adaptive” component of Smarter Balance will be “turned on” for the first time spring of 2015 (adaptions were turned off for the field test in 2014). If Smarter Balance is adaptive in nature, if the computer program gives different questions according to how the student answers previous questions, then HOW is this test even “standardized”?

    Why are schools giving un-vetted, unproven psychometric tests to students? Why the emphasis on computerization of testing except to capture large amounts of data?

    Money is made off students’ data, now used by third party corporations and re-sold to the American taxpayer (schools) as educational products… but parents and teachers don’t get a say in this.

    This is a giant experiment on an entire American generation. And you wonder why parents are upset? You think the way you word the crummy tests results is going to matter?

  5. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    "State Board President Michael Kirst has said that it will take five more years for full implementation of the new standards, with fully trained teachers using fully developed curriculums and textbooks." SBE President Kirst seems to be in agreement with testing experts who have written here on this site. Putting all the relevant facts together it would seem, then, to make the most sense to delay reporting test data until the five years and all of the … Read More

    “State Board President Michael Kirst has said that it will take five more years for full implementation of the new standards, with fully trained teachers using fully developed curriculums and textbooks.”

    SBE President Kirst seems to be in agreement with testing experts who have written here on this site.

    Putting all the relevant facts together it would seem, then, to make the most sense to delay reporting test data until the five years and all of the relevant implementation tasks have been fully implemented.

    Recalling the GIGO rule, garbage in/garbage out, why be putting patently misleading test information out to the public where it will not only be misinterpreted, but will surely spark a surge in the “ain’t it awful” media school narrative, and will just give more ammunition to the public-school-criticism-indistrial-complex and even more failed and phony school “reform” initiatives?

    We now have the CA School Boards Association, the state Schools Administrator’s organization, and now LAUSD calling for postponement. It makes sense and, likely, that’s why it may not happen.

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

      Gary -- In a SacBee article earlier this week, Kirst was more specific estimating that 1/3 of CA's 275K teachers are fully prepared to teach the common core as well as indicating his belief that it will take until about 2019 before the success of the new standards can truly be determined. As a testing guy, both of these estimates strongly say that 2015 is way too early to fully implement common core instruction . … Read More

      Gary — In a SacBee article earlier this week, Kirst was more specific estimating that 1/3 of CA’s 275K teachers are fully prepared to teach the common core as well as indicating his belief that it will take until about 2019 before the success of the new standards can truly be determined. As a testing guy, both of these estimates strongly say that 2015 is way too early to fully implement common core instruction . . . . the scores simply won’t be valid (as required by Ed Code as well as good large scale testing practice) for measuring the results of instruction if indeed instruction has yet to be implemented.

      • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

        Opps . . . . in the middle there, I meant “implementing common core assessments” not “implementing common core instruction.” Also, I might note at the Nov SBE meeting, I suggested an alternative of using only selected grade levels and portions of Smarter Balanced tests to produce valid 2015 scores once SB threshold or cut scores are validated . . . to avoid producing extremely poor non-credible data for the next several years.

        • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

          Thanks, Doug. You were, of course, the “testing expert” I was referring to in my post, but I didn’t want to try and put words in your keyboard.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        Doug, won’t these lower scores be an impediment to student resumes as they compete nationwide for college admission?

        • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

          Don — I think colleges mostly attention to higher ed tests like SAT, ACT, AP for admissions purposes, and if they pay attention to statewide testing scores it is more for placement after admission [like the EAP program here in CA]. There may be some fallout from “lower” statewide testing scores for college admissions, but my guess is the college admissions use won’t be a major issue for the reaction to Smarter Balanced scores

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            Doug: I should have prefaced my question this way - with the trend nowadays towards less reliance on high stakes college admissions testing and more on HS grades perhaps some colleges are also looking to complete the picture of a student's history using the SB or PARCC. Regarding the reporting of less than accurate scores, it is a prime example of how politics trumps best practices. What baffles me is why politicians think there would … Read More

            Doug: I should have prefaced my question this way – with the trend nowadays towards less reliance on high stakes college admissions testing and more on HS grades perhaps some colleges are also looking to complete the picture of a student’s history using the SB or PARCC.

            Regarding the reporting of less than accurate scores, it is a prime example of how politics trumps best practices. What baffles me is why politicians think there would be less blowback with inaccurate and lower scores than there would be with a longer delay. No news is better than bad news. The politicians can try to assuage the sense of failure with advanced warnings about the lower scores, but all this is likely to do is create more distrust of those who would purposefully advance an incomplete process to fruition before its time.

            • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

              Don, some people only have one child. This has hurt my ability to help improve my children's weaknesses with specific workbooks and tutoring. I've done some of it myself to make up for the state's incompetence. We both know GPA is less accurate than test scores because schools are very different in difficulty. A 3.00 at Lowell is a 3.90 anywhere else, a 2.5 at Lowell is about a 3.6 at … Read More

              Don, some people only have one child. This has hurt my ability to help improve my children’s weaknesses with specific workbooks and tutoring. I’ve done some of it myself to make up for the state’s incompetence. We both know GPA is less accurate than test scores because schools are very different in difficulty. A 3.00 at Lowell is a 3.90 anywhere else, a 2.5 at Lowell is about a 3.6 at Washington or St. Ignatius or San Mateo High. Test scores cut across all that. These tests help one prepare for SAT Tests and postgraduate tests and teaches children how to dig deep and work hard during Summers to turn a weakness into a strength.

              Even if they delay another year, I guarantee in a year there will be people calling for another delay. Many are automatically against testing. We need percentiles on these tests and the state should provide tutoring and materials and books for children to improve their weaknesses over the Summer. At first, it will look bad, but if we as parents and a community dedicate ourselves to improving our children’s test scores and take time we now spend on other things and dedicate it to this, we can overcome and improve our children’s lives.

              Delaying another year is not a solution. It harms families and children.

          • SD Parent 2 years ago2 years ago

            Well, it seems the students in middle school and the early years of high school in California are just, pardon my French, screwed. That's because the SAT and ACT tests are also changing, morphing into critical thinking tests more aligned to the SBAC. So even if the state and districts can wait until teachers and students are better prepared for the SBAC to be held accountable, students in high school in the next … Read More

            Well, it seems the students in middle school and the early years of high school in California are just, pardon my French, screwed. That’s because the SAT and ACT tests are also changing, morphing into critical thinking tests more aligned to the SBAC. So even if the state and districts can wait until teachers and students are better prepared for the SBAC to be held accountable, students in high school in the next few years will be left unprepared and competing against unevenly prepared peers to get into colleges. Too bad for California’s students where their districts, like ours (San Diego Unified) were slow to adopt Common Core. Guess that bodes for greater admission rates for students from states that were early adopters of Common Core, like New York…

    • Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

      Waiting for 5 years to release test results would be an interesting experiment. Would parents just give up on standardized testing? Or will they protest that schools are broken because they can’t release results? Has anyone taken any polls on this topic?

      • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

        It's good for them to shift it leftward. Too many parents and schools and kids are complacent. We won't go from near last to the top in education as a state or nation without parents dedicating weekends and more time to teaching their kids, and kids putting a lot more than 5.6 hours into reading and studying combined. You have to earn feeling good about yourself. You have to earn self-esteem. … Read More

        It’s good for them to shift it leftward. Too many parents and schools and kids are complacent. We won’t go from near last to the top in education as a state or nation without parents dedicating weekends and more time to teaching their kids, and kids putting a lot more than 5.6 hours into reading and studying combined. You have to earn feeling good about yourself. You have to earn self-esteem. The percentile should be reported on each score, overall and for English and Math, so every kid knows if they are below or above average and by how much. They used to do that with the CTBS results and they didn’t with STAR.

      • John Fensterwald 2 years ago2 years ago

        Paul: The test results will be released to parents this year within a month after the tests are taken, according to the Department of Education. Since there will be as long as a 12-week test window to administer the tests, it's unclear whether all parents in a school or district will get the scores at the same time or a month after their own children take it. In any event, the issue here is … Read More

        Paul: The test results will be released to parents this year within a month after the tests are taken, according to the Department of Education. Since there will be as long as a 12-week test window to administer the tests, it’s unclear whether all parents in a school or district will get the scores at the same time or a month after their own children take it.

        In any event, the issue here is when will a school’s scores be used to calculate the API — starting this year, as the base year, or in 2015-16. I don’t believe the state will wait more several years beyond that, as Doug McRae advocates, though he makes a rational case for further delay.

        • Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

          John, thank you for the clarification. My question was also open to the possibility that parents will care about the school API.

        • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

          John — How does one convert a “rational case” to a “compelling case?” [Grin] My initial reply to your comment last night is misplaced below . . . . . my bad, the new reply arrows are a gotcha.

          • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

            Add emotion and a dash of salt. 😉

  6. Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

    In the STAR reporting parents received a score tally as well as a proficiency rating. It was something like 18 out of 20 questions answered correctly. Would such a thing make sense for SB? I’d rather see the state focus more on reporting the type of questions a student answered/incorrectly than on comparing students. Perhaps there would be a practical way to put that information to use.

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 2 years ago2 years ago

      John -- I do not advocate the state wait several years to release scores. Rather, I advocate the state releases valid scores as soon as validity can be established, rather than releasing invalid scores that will lead to substandard decisions and create havoc. Valid scores for 2015 can be released as soon as valid cut scores are done via use of 2015 census data, or fall 2015, possibly based on selected sets of items rather … Read More

      John — I do not advocate the state wait several years to release scores. Rather, I advocate the state releases valid scores as soon as validity can be established, rather than releasing invalid scores that will lead to substandard decisions and create havoc. Valid scores for 2015 can be released as soon as valid cut scores are done via use of 2015 census data, or fall 2015, possibly based on selected sets of items rather than all items administered. For future years, with validity already established, scores can be returned within weeks as indicated by CDE plans.

  7. Caroline Grannan 2 years ago2 years ago

    The powers that be could have done the same thing without any shift in tests or curricula -- simply redefined the level that was formerly "proficient" so kids who used to be high achievers were now mediocre achievers, and no one was "advanced." How is this different? Of course parents and students and teachers will hate it -- you would, press folks, and everyone else, if your own performance standards were redefined so … Read More

    The powers that be could have done the same thing without any shift in tests or curricula — simply redefined the level that was formerly “proficient” so kids who used to be high achievers were now mediocre achievers, and no one was “advanced.” How is this different? Of course parents and students and teachers will hate it — you would, press folks, and everyone else, if your own performance standards were redefined so you suddenly fell far short of your previous rating. Is it some kind of “in your face” test to determine how harsh the bureaucracy can be to the little people before they rise up in outrage?

    Replies

    • Dawn Urbanek 2 years ago2 years ago

      yes- That is exactly what happened in New York where some schools did not have a single student score proficient on the test.

      • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

        The most important thing in this is having a large number of questions and reporting percentiles to parents. Those won’t change. Also, provide parents advice on how to be involved in preparing your kids for these tests. I have worked hard as a parent and been able to help my kids get into the top 3% of test takers. Report percentiles. This is what is most important.

    • Zeev Wurman 2 years ago2 years ago

      I hate it when I agree with Caroline …