DUSD transitions away from standardized testing

DOWNEY - Nothing has galvanized the Downey educational community these days more than the passage on Oct. 2 of Assembly Bill 484 which has done away with the state's years-old Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) and replaced it with its new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) assessment system.Since the provisions of AB 484 take effect this January 1st, 2014 and represent marked departures from old, familiar practices, as will be seen more clearly, this has created a bit of confusion and anxiety among parents and children, as well as others concerned with the education of our young. The old STAR program, it will be noted, featured the California Standards Tests (CSTs) for grades 2-11, whose results went into the Academic Performance Index (API) scores, which compared DUSD scores against the state average and against other selected districts'. This need not worry the parties mentioned above, because DUSD has generally scored high in the API rankings anyway. MAPP suspends most of the old CSTs (and CMAs, i.e., California Modified Assessments) this year. To take student achievement measures in math in grades 2-7 as an example, CST or CMA and End-of-Course tests (General math, Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, High School Summative Math) have been eliminated; gone also, as another example, are CSTs for grades 8, 10 (World History), and 11 (U.S. History). An immediate, and welcome, result of STAR's demise is that parents and guardians won't get a STAR test result for their child/children this year, which is the year of transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As the new measuring standard of student achievement under the game-changing CCSS, MAPP (which is scheduled for implementation in 2014-15) will chiefly measure problem-solving and creative thinking cognitive skills vs. the old rote learning methods and multiple-choice testing techniques; it will thus "promote high-quality teaching and learning" through the use of new teaching and assessment approaches, says Denise Takano, Director of Elementary Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. To be added to MAPP's significant new touches will be the inclusion of such measures as attendance and graduation rates in figuring over-all achievement test results. Starting this year, there will be end-of-year (or summary) assessment for English Language Arts and math in grades 3 though 8, as well as grade 11, designed by the so-named Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). SBAC has been described as a state-led consortium "involving educators, researchers, policymakers, and community groups in a transparent and consensus-driven process to help all students thrive in a knowledge-driven global economy" and achieve college and career readiness. Each student will take either an ELA or math field test this year-the FT will not be "computer-adaptive" just yet, but it will be computer-based. In any case, this should not worry anybody because it will just be a field test (a field exercise). At any rate, the eventual actual MAPP assessment in 2014-15 will be rigorous, and will emphasize higher-level thinking skill and problem-solving, in line with the revolutionary Common Core principles and standards. "Computer-adaptive testing," according to Takano, will be a new format "where the software program will automatically adjust the difficulty level of questions based on the responses of the students." The process was also described by Michael Hanson who wrote in the Sacramento Bee, "The new [computer-abetted] testing system (versus old-fashioned paper-and-pencil tests) will have the added advantage of being able to adapt while students are taking the test, thus individually tailoring questions based on each student's answer. This computer-adaptive feature will give teachers critical feedback on how to help each child" going forward. Takano says AB 484 should allow schools to focus on transitioning to CCSS without the "added concern of assessing students on the CSTs-which are not aligned to the CCSS." To make all this intelligible further to parents and guardians, DUSD has prepared a "Parents' Guide to the Common Core State Standards." One of its key points emphasizes: "Common Core standards keep the best of what we have, but replace outdated ways of learning with a clear focus on the key knowledge and skills students need [for the demands of the 21st century], and provide teachers the time to teach them well." Some of its other points: parents and guardians are crucial partners in laying the groundwork for a smooth transition to the new standards. To accomplish this, they should learn as much about it as possible, and become actively involved in the Common Core transition through their local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), according to the guide. At any rate, DUSD was eloquent in putting these new themes in context. It said: "All students graduating from the DUSD should all be life-long learners, with the skills and knowledge necessary to assume their positions in the 21st century global economy. The new standards are designed to be relevant in the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that students need for success in both higher education and career. Our communities will be stronger if students graduate with the skills and knowledge needed in today's job market." Anyway one looks at it at this point, says Takano, AB 484 is "both complex and a gigantic project." At any rate, she says the state department of education has indicated it will provide updates and new information as a lot of unanswered questions still exist.

********** Published: Oct. 31, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 29