Alison Yin for EdSource Today

Parents across California will soon find out how their children performed on Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards in math and English language arts.

A key change this year is that the score reports show student progress from last year to this year. The reports will include simplified text and easier-to­-read graphics than last year, according to new samples approved by the state.

Parents should receive their children’s reports during the summer. This is earlier than last year, when some parents didn’t receive their children’s score reports in the mail until October or November, said Celia Jaffe, vice president of education for the California PTA.

The tests were first administered last year as part of the state’s California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP testing system. Each spring, more than 3 million students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The state PTA has teamed up with the California Department of Education to provide parent guides to help explain the tests and has developed its own reader­-friendly explanations. Brochures detailing the math and English language arts standards are also available on the state’s website.

In addition, parents can find new resources including a template letter about the testing window and a parent checklist touting “5 Ways You Can Be Prepared” for the second year of testing. New parent guides and videos are available this year in English and other languages, said Michelle Center, director of the assessment, development and administration division of the state Department of Education, at a meeting of the state Board of Education last month.

California is working with the Smarter Balanced Consortium to launch a new website soon at testscoreguide.org/CA that will include parent resources about the Common Core State Standards, the tests, descriptions of achievement levels, sample questions, and other information, she said. This is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, said Peter Tira, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, in an e­mail.

He said students’ paper score reports should start being mailed to districts this week, adding that the state originally expected the reports to be mailed by the end of May, but the department extended that timeline to give districts extra time to order Spanish versions of the reports and update other information.

“The new website will launch soon after that,” Tira said.

This year, the student score reports include orange bands that show at­ a glance whether or not students met standards in math and English language arts. Under the bands, two bar charts show the students’ growth or decline in scores and achievement levels from last year to this year.

Overall student achievement levels are: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met, or standard not met. Next to the bar charts, this year’s reports show a breakdown of the four areas in English language arts and three areas in math that make up the overall scores, along with three achievement levels: below standard, near standard, or above standard.

This year’s reports show the achievement levels graphically, with check marks beneath the levels in which the student scored, such as in “reading” under English language arts or “concepts and procedures” under math.

For 11th-graders, the reports explain whether students are considered ready for credit-bearing college courses in the California State University system.

Jaffe said the new reports make it easier for parents to see their children’s strengths and weaknesses.

“That’s a big improvement,” said Jaffe, who participated in two focus groups aimed at improving the way test scores are reported to the public.

She said many parents didn’t understand the connection between the overall scores and the smaller categories last year because they were on different pages of the report.

However, Jaffe predicted that parents may need help this year understanding that if students get the same overall numerical scores as they progress in grade levels, their performance levels will go down because the score ranges increase annually.

“We try to explain it like a growth chart at the pediatrician’s office,” she said.

For example, a 3rd­-grader meets standards in English language arts with a score of 2432 on a scale of 2114-­2623. But a 4th-­grader needs to score 2473 to meet standards on a scale of 2131-2663. An 11th-­grader must score 2583 on a scale of 2299­-2795 to meet standards.

A new template letter for parents explains that the tests are important because they measure how well students have mastered skills and content, based on what they are learning in school. It says teachers can use the scores “to provide targeted help to students to address their needs” and includes websites with more information, including a practice test.

The Parent Checklist offers these five ways to prepare for the tests:

  • Find out the facts about them
  • Look at the practice test
  • Know what your child should be learning
  • Use your child’s test results to identify areas to work on at home
  • Practice by helping your child with homework

In parent focus groups, the greatest criticism “was the belief that the tests were separate from the daily work that took place in the classroom and therefore did not reflect what their children actually learned every day,” researchers found.

But the state insists that the tests measure what students are learning and invites parents to take the practice tests so they can see for themselves.

Jaffe said the extent to which parents believe the tests are measuring what their children are learning varies from classroom to classroom and school to school. Similarly, she said some schools could be further ahead than others in using scores to inform instruction.

The scores, she said, provide “valid assessment information about how your kids are doing against expected outcomes, so it’s quality information that we hope good use is being made of ­because that’s the crux of the system – to improve teaching and learning.”

Last year, districts didn’t get the online test score results until August or September, too late to influence instruction in the same year when the tests were given. Yet, 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.

Despite the sped-­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.

This year, districts are receiving student scores electronically through the state’s Online Reporting System much faster, giving schools more time to review them to help in planning for the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Keric Ashley, state deputy superintendent, said districts receive online student scores three weeks after students complete testing and receive paper reports to be sent to parents seven weeks after testing is finished. This means most districts –­ which complete testing by the end of June –­ will receive all student reports by August.

“The only caveat,” he said, “is we do have a few districts that test all the way to July.”

Travis Burke, a teacher in the Santa Maria­-Bonita school district in Santa Barbara County, said the three­-week turnaround time for online student scores could benefit teachers. The reports, he said, could help teachers determine whether students are receiving effective instruction, and whether additional teacher training is needed in specific areas.

“I think at the teacher level, you can start to do things in terms of what you review for the end of the year or communicate to next year’s teachers,” he said. “It puts the students in a better position to have what they need.”

Some districts and schools plan to hold parent meetings to help explain the student score reports. Jaffe told the state board that parents are very curious about the reports and have shown great interest in the informational materials, especially sample test questions.

“They are very interested in the use of the scores both locally and statewide,” she said, adding that her organization tells parents the ways schools and districts are using the scores is still not clear.

The new student score reports, she said, should help parents and teachers pinpoint areas of concern, since they summarize what the test results mean more clearly than last year’s reports.

“The bottom line for parents,” Jaffe said, “is ‘Are my children where they need to be?’ That is the item of most interest.”

To help parents answer this question, the state PTA has created a flier titled: “Assessments: Questions to ask about your child’s score reports.” It includes suggested questions parents can ask their children, teachers, principals and superintendents, such as: “How can I help my child be successful?”

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  1. Penny Howard 11 months ago11 months ago

    Have the 2016 CAASPP results been mailed to parents yet? We have not received ours yet and I can find nothing on-line about it, except that they would be mailed starting in June (it’s now mid-September). My child’s school has heard nothing either. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 11 months ago11 months ago

      Penny, Districts were supposed to begin receiving the student reports about seven weeks after all students completed their testing. So, I would suggest checking with your district, since the district is responsible for mailing them to parents, not schools.

  2. sylvia su 12 months ago12 months ago

    We still haven’t received my kid’s score. I wonder if the mail is missing. How can we get the results? We are very anxious to know. I called the school district (Cupertino Union) and they said they have no way of getting the copy to us. What can I do? Thanks.

    Replies

    • Angie da Costa 12 months ago12 months ago

      Hi Sylvia,

      The test results become part of your child’s permanent school record, which you are entitled to see. But this would be at the school directly.

      • Theresa Harrington 11 months ago11 months ago

        The school district is responsible for sending out the student score reports to parents after they receive them. However, if it hasn’t yet received the report, it has to wait. Most districts have received the reports by now, so I would suggest asking again.

    • Theresa Harrington 11 months ago11 months ago

      I spoke to the district's chief information officer today and he said Cupertino Union received most of its student reports in August, but also received a small batch during the first week of September, which they have sent out. The Visalia and Elk Grove districts have also said they hadn't yet received all of their student score reports by the end of August. I am following up with the CDE to find out what caused … Read More

      I spoke to the district’s chief information officer today and he said Cupertino Union received most of its student reports in August, but also received a small batch during the first week of September, which they have sent out. The Visalia and Elk Grove districts have also said they hadn’t yet received all of their student score reports by the end of August. I am following up with the CDE to find out what caused this delay. Thanks for letting us know about the delay in your district.

  3. Deb Hozempa 1 year ago1 year ago

    Was wondering when the test results actually get sent out to parents.

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 1 year ago1 year ago

      They are supposed to be mailed to districts seven weeks after all students in the district complete testing. Then, the districts mail them out to parents. So, it depends on your district’s testing window.

  4. Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

    "In parent focus groups, the greatest criticism 'was the belief that the tests were separate from the daily work that took place in the classroom and therefore did not reflect what their children actually learned every day' . . . . . But the state insists that the tests measure what students are learning . . . . ." So far, the state has not provided evidence that the Smarter Balanced tests measure what students are … Read More

    “In parent focus groups, the greatest criticism ‘was the belief that the tests were separate from the daily work that took place in the classroom and therefore did not reflect what their children actually learned every day’ . . . . . But the state insists that the tests measure what students are learning . . . . .”

    So far, the state has not provided evidence that the Smarter Balanced tests measure what students are currently learning in classroom. The state attempted to collect evidence on implementation of common core instruction across California in 2012 and 2013, but has not attempted to collect this kind of statewide evidence since 2013, despite it being one of the eight priorities in the 2013 LCFF/LCAP legislation. The most recent national evidence for implementation of common core instruction by LEAs that I am aware of is the Center for Educational Progress report (Oct 2014) that roughly one-third of LEAs across the country had implemented common core instruction as of spring 2014. There is no reason to think California is ahead of the national curve in terms of implementation of common core instruction; if anything, due to fiscal limitations in the early 2010’s, California is most likely behind the national curve for implementation of common core instruction.

    So, there is no support for the CDE claim that Smarter Balanced tests currently measure what students are actually learning in CA classrooms, no documentation that common core instruction has actually been widely implemented in CA classrooms by 2015 or 2016. This circumstance causes credibility issues for Smarter Balanced results in the trenches, particularly for low wealth schools where implementation of common core instruction lags behind high wealth districts. In addition, the wholesale change to computer-based test administration in 2015 introduced another complication for interpretation of Smarter Balanced test results for both 2015 and 2016, to wit . . . . Do the results reflect actual ELA and Math achievement? Or are the results differentially contaminated by lack of availability and familiarity with technology for students in low wealth schools compared to high wealth schools.

    This post does a good job of reflecting the “easier to use” Smarter Balanced test score reports, but it assumes that the scores themselves are valid and fair measures of the results of instruction. They cannot be valid measures of instruction unless instruction has actually taken place. My own estimates are that the 2015 Smarter Balanced results are based on adequate implementation of common core instruction for only 50 percent of CA classrooms, that 2016 results will be based on adequate implementation of common core instruction for perhaps two-thirds of CA classrooms, but I’ll acknowledge I have no hard evidence for these estimates. The bottom line is that despite “easier to use” Smarter Balanced score reports, the underlying score information is flawed due to the widespread lack of common core instruction in California. The opportunity-to-learn [i.e., via common core instruction] context is vital for informed interpretation of Smarter Balanced scores for 2015 as well as 2016, for outcome scores as well as growth scores, and particularly for subgroup gap data. This situation is extremely problematic for all Smarter Balanced data for 2015 and 2016 in California, a situation that may or not be true for other Smarter Balanced states.

    Replies

    • CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

      So, many parents believe their kids are being tested on material they haven’t been taught, but state officials are trying to assure parents that’s not true.

      What do teachers say? Seems like they’d know best.

      • Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

        Caroline SF -- I'm not aware of any independent systematic survey of CA teachers for status of implementation of common core instruction; such a study could have been done by the CAASPP Independent Evaluator using already available funding, but the CDE and SBE were non-responsive to such a suggestion last fall. Anecdotal info has indicated that CA teachers report a fair amount of general professional development activities for the common core but a paucity … Read More

        Caroline SF — I’m not aware of any independent systematic survey of CA teachers for status of implementation of common core instruction; such a study could have been done by the CAASPP Independent Evaluator using already available funding, but the CDE and SBE were non-responsive to such a suggestion last fall. Anecdotal info has indicated that CA teachers report a fair amount of general professional development activities for the common core but a paucity of available instructional materials for common core instruction. I’d note that one of the lessons learned from implementation of CA’s 1997-98 content standards was that effective professional development for teachers needs to come after locally adopted instructional materials are available so that those materials can be part and parcel of the professional development activities.

        For the entire US, the Center for Educational Progress located at George Washington University in DC published data about a month ago from a scientific random sample of teachers across the US as of spring/summer 2015 on implementation of common core instruction, with the results roughly confirming the anecdotal info here in CA. However, this study did not yield a conclusive percent of implementation like the Oct 2014 CEP study mentioned above.

      • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

        My children were not tested on what they didn’t learn because I opted them out for that very reason.

        Common Core instruction not only varies by structural differences between districts such as curricular development and technology implementation, but also individually among teachers. Younger, less experienced teachers are more likely to teach to the Common Core standards than more experienced teachers who may exercise more discretion when it comes to teaching the latest fads.