Changes are underway to fix flaws in tests designed to help teachers pinpoint student weaknesses before they take Common Core–aligned assessments each spring.
The tests, known as “interim assessments,” are similar to the end-of-the year Smarter Balanced assessments that are used to assess student achievement and progress, as well as that of their schools and districts, in math and English language arts. More than 3 million California students take the Smarter Balanced assessments each year.
Many teachers have given the optional interim tests to their students during the school year to gauge how they are doing, hoping to adjust what or how they teach in advance of the final assessments that are used to fulfill state and federal accountability requirements.
But a panel of three teachers and a school district administrator told the Assembly Education Committee at a hearing in Sacramento earlier this month that they couldn’t get a clear picture of students’ progress because the reports they received on how students did on the interim assessments lacked enough detail to be useful. Specifically, the reports didn’t include any of the questions on the interim tests, students’ responses or the specific standards they were tested on.
The reports are part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP – a statewide system launched three years ago to test students on new Common Core standards in math and English language arts, as well as science. California is part of a multi-state group called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which developed the Common Core-aligned tests.
Come this fall, the reports that teachers receive on the interim assessments are expected to include questions, student answers, and information about the questions’ alignment to specific Common Core standards, said Tony Alpert, executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
“What took so long?” asked Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Education Committee, pointing out that some other organizations created tests and reports with the features teachers want much more quickly.
The state Legislature approved the new testing system nearly four years ago, stating that its intent was to provide tests “to improve teaching and learning.” But educators and community members told the committee April 5 that the interim tests and reports are not meeting this goal.
Frustrated by the test’s drawbacks, many districts have spent significant amounts of their own money on other interim tests that provide more detailed reports that teachers find more helpful in advance of their students taking the end-of-the-year test, said Paula Heupel, assistant superintendent for educational services in the Merced City School District.
O’Donnell was especially concerned about school districts having to spend funds for these purposes, which wouldn’t have been necessary if the interim tests provided by the consortium had met teachers’ needs. He noted a “redundancy of effort that’s gone on all over the state” by districts seeking to come up with alternatives to the interim tests on their own.
A former teacher, O’Donnell called the hearing to gather information for his bill, AB 1035, which seeks to improve the interim tests and the reports sent to schools and districts on their student’s performance.
“This is something that should have been taken a look at much sooner,” he said.
Alpert said there were many possible reasons the issues raised by teachers had not been addressed earlier, noting that the members of the consortium needed time to reach consensus about what was most important.
Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the nonprofit education advocacy group EdVoice, urged the committee and Legislature to “get to the bottom of why the tools promised to teachers and kids” were still not available four years later.
O’Donnell plans to amend AB 1035 based on what he heard, in preparation for a committee hearing on the bill April 26, said Rick Pratt, chief consultant to the committee, in a phone interview. Pratt said that if the education committee approves the amended bill it will move on to the appropriations committee.
California won’t pay any additional costs for the new test report features, since the consortium contracted directly with the vendor, said Peter Tira, spokesman for the state Department of Education, in an email. So far this year, California teachers have administered about 4.5 million interim assessments, he added.
The state has hired the Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO, to conduct two separate studies related to the assessments. In one, the group is surveying teachers about interim assessment hand-scoring workshops provided by the Educational Testing Service organization, or ETS, which administers the tests. In the other, the group is surveying teachers about how useful they find the assessments.
Alpert said in a phone interview that California pays $9.95 million for its membership in the consortium, which gives it access to the end-of-the-year tests, interim tests and “formative resources,” including a Digital Library of online lesson plans. In addition, the state has entered into a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with ETS for test administration and training.
The consortium had not widely released details about the improvements before the hearing because it wanted to finalize them, Alpert said. After Fairway Technologies, the firm that got the contract to revise the test reports, has finalized its plans, he said the consortium would release more information so the state could train districts and teachers in how to use them.
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