Districts receiving student test results faster than last year, officials say

May 22, 2016
CAASPP sbac smarter balanced

Students in California preparing for the Smarter Balanced tests.

As millions of California students take tests aligned with the Common Core standards for the second year, many districts and schools are getting results back more quickly than they did the first time around.

That could help educators make better use of the tests to help guide actual classroom instruction.

One of the major selling points of the Smarter Balanced tests when the full set of tests were administered for the first time last year was that schools would get the results much more quickly than they did under the old California Standards Tests, and that the scores would be more useful in informing how students were taught.

But scores came in more slowly than anticipated last year, the first time the full battery of tests had been administered. In many cases districts only received all the results in August or early September. The state did not publicly release scores for all districts and schools until Sept. 8, after the new school year had started in many districts.

Despite the speeded-up timeline reported by some districts this year, it is too soon to get a complete picture of the experience of the nearly 1,000 school districts in California – and just how much the test scores will be used to shape how or what children are taught. 

To help  districts make the best use of test results, Educational Testing Service (ETS), in partnership with the California Department of Education and WestEd, is offering a series of “Connecting Assessments to Instructionworkshops in various parts of the state.

Check out workshop materials here. 

Most students are taking the tests on a rolling basis during a testing window extending from April through mid-June. Actual administration dates vary depending on the district. As of May 13, more than 1.5 million students had completed each of the math and English language arts portions of the test, although almost twice that number had begun taking them. The tests are a major part of the state’s new assessment program, called the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).

School officials are welcoming the faster delivery of scores. “Last year at this point, we had only about 20 percent of the scores and today we have just over 58 percent of the scores back,” wrote Susan Green, director of assessment, evaluation and planning for San Juan Unified, a 50,000-student district near Sacramento, in an email last week.

Ting Sun, executive director of the Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, and a member of the State Board of Education, said her school received some students’ scores within two weeks – even faster than the expected three to five weeks.

Getting 11th grade results has helped the school to determine what writing courses to place students in next year so they could meet California State University admissions requirements, Sun said.

The school also plans to disseminate the scores to teachers right away, so they will “know where their students are before the school year starts,” she added.

“Last year, we weren’t getting these scores until August or September,” said Natomas Charter’s director of instructional technology and assessment Joe Wood. “This time, we had one group of students that finished testing on Friday and by Sunday morning, I already had the scores.” Getting test results earlier, he said, will help the K-12 school tweak its curriculum, staffing and schedules for next year.

Last year, ETS failed to meet its promised timeframes for returning scores to districts. As a result, the state board voted to fine the company $3.1 million because it did not meet its contract deadline to provide paper copies of student score reports for districts to mail to parents eight weeks after testing, or to complete score reporting for a small percentage of districts.

Michelle Center, director of the California Department of Education’s Assessment Development and Administration division, said district officials are telling her they’re pleased by the short amount of time it is taking for them to get students’ scores through the Online Reporting System. The system was set up by the state to allow teachers and schools to get more information on how students performed on the tests, and to tailor instruction accordingly.

However, she cautioned that since scores are not distributed all at once, early results give only a partial picture of how a school or district is doing. CDE deputy superintendent Keric Ashley said scores are posted on the Online Reporting System on a nightly basis, but generally take about three weeks from the time a student completes testing.

Although parents might get their students’ scores sooner this year than last, it will still be a while before that happens. Districts are expected to receive student reports in a written form seven weeks after students finish their tests, Ashley said. Districts are then expected to send the reports on to parents.

Districts are allowed to appeal a score if they feel a student was given the wrong test, his or her Internet connection was lost, or for any number of other irregularities. The CDE’s Center said last year the appeal process often took weeks. This year, on the other hand, she said appeals are being handled within 48 hours.

“We have really made great strides in reducing turnaround time and reducing the time it takes us to respond to any issues that come up,” Center told the state board at its May meeting.

In addition to individual students’ test scores, districts are also receiving more detailed information, called “target reports,” intended to help teachers understand the strengths and weaknesses of subgroups of students in a school such as an entire grade, English learners or special education students. The target reports are based on how students answered questions on the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English but include more data than the individual student reports.

San Juan Unified’s Green said her district is creating target reports for each teacher’s class. In addition, she said schools are creating reports for subgroups such as English learners, students who attend a special intervention program and those who receive after-school tutoring.

“These reports allow teachers and schools to see – what are the students’ relative strengths and weaknesses – and connect that to instruction,” Green said.

Ashley said the state is encouraging district officials to pass both the individual student reports and the target reports  on to students’ current teachers, as well as to those who will  teach them in the fall, so they can integrate strengths and weaknesses into their lesson planning.

“This is a new process,” he said.

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