Teachers’ concerns lead to changes in state’s testing contract

May 10, 2017

Sophomores attend chemistry class in Oakland.

Teacher complaints have been heard by the vendor that designs some of the state’s academic tests.

Partially in response to concerns raised by educators, the state Board of Education Wednesday approved a $1.5 million contract amendment with Educational Testing Service that will help pay for teacher training in science.

Nearly $500,000 of the added costs will be spent on three in-person “Science Academies” to be held in the spring of 2018 in Northern, Central and Southern California to help teachers understand the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS.

The academies will train teachers using materials that the state and the vendor are developing for pilot science tests as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, standardized testing system.

Educational Testing Service has a four-year contract for $241.9 million with the state to administer California’s annual tests in English and math created through the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and to develop science and Spanish tests, as well as alternative assessments for students with special needs. The contract started in July 1, 2015 and extends through Dec. 31, 2018.

The contract amendment acknowledges that teachers have found the new science standards “challenging” to implement.

The standards “present alternative ways to consider how students learn and how teachers teach,” according to the contract.

Academy participants will analyze the standards and learn about the test questions and scoring rubric to better understand expectations for students. They will also take different types of tests themselves and “analyze student work and develop a deeper understanding of the standards and the implications for instruction,” the contract states.

With the contract amendments, the state will pay ETS nearly $77.3 million in 2017-18 for the development, administration and reporting of the CAASPP tests.

Teachers’ concerns have also prompted the inclusion of more detailed student score reports for optional interim assessments, which some educators administer to students during the school year before the end-of-year tests. Many teachers had complained that the previous reports – which did not include test questions or student responses – were too vague to be useful.

Michelle Center, director of the state’s assessment development and administration division, said more than 6 million interim assessments created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have been given to students this school year.

But Board Member Patricia Rucker said “there is a gap in perception about the value of these interim assessments between what we’re expecting and what many people in the field believe is going on.”

She urged Center’s department to “create some kind of messaging to the field” that would clarify how teachers should use them. She also said she wished there was a way to ensure that teachers would actually “read the memo.”

About $345,000 will be transferred from the ETS contract to the nonprofit educational consulting organization WestEd so that WestEd can provide workshops regarding interim assessments and test scoring and collaborate with the vendor on post-test workshops. The contract also includes changes related to the development of California Spanish Assessments, which will be piloted in the fall of 2017.

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