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State superintendent proposes new statewide testing system

Common Core Assessments to focus on problem solving, critical thinking

Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO • Barstow public school students will soon take a new yearly test thanks to the statewide shift towards the Common Core Standards of teaching.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson made 12 recommendations to the Governor and legislature in a report, “Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System,” mandated by Assembly Bill 250. The report aims to prepare policy makers and school districts alike for the expiration of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, which is scheduled to end on July 1, 2014.

According to Torlakson, the STAR program has been in effect for about 12 years and no longer reflects the 21st century learning that is going on in most classrooms on behalf of the new Common Core State Standards.

“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore, and it is time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” Torlakson said.

Jeff Malan, superintendent of the Barstow Unified School District, said the impending shift is “very much in tune” with test runs the district has already been involved with.

“We currently are participating in pilot programs through the State Department of Education called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortion,” he said. “It’s moving toward an environment that will be a very much computer-based testing scenario versus a pencil fill-in-the-bubble system.”

Among the 12 recommendations in the report is the suspension of particular STAR program assessments for the coming 2013-14 school year unless the exams are federally mandated. This would suspend the STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course exams at the high-school level, according to a press release from Torlakson’s office.

Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of the California Department of Education’s District, School and Innovation Support Branch, said that the new tests would be fully implemented by spring 2015.

“That will give us some time to rebuild the system,” Sigman said during a press teleconference on Tuesday. “It’s a much deeper assessment than the current set of assessments. We strongly believe that these new assessments are better assessments.”

Both Torlakson and Sigman said that the Common Core Assessments will focus on problem solving and critical thinking and that the results — which will be returned to teachers in a matter of weeks — will offer a richer and more positive level of analysis and diagnostic feedback.

“The concept is simple but powerful: If our tests require students to think critically and solve problems to do well on test day, those same skills are much more likely to be taught in our classrooms day in and day out,” said Torlakson.

David Rattray, senior vice president of Education and Workforce Development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said during the teleconference that the new assessment would better prepare students in California for careers and college, emphasizing that employers are more apt to hire and reward an employee that gets results.

“This is really going to be fantastic for business,” said Rattray. “What works for students works for business.”

Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System can be found on the Statewide Pupil Assessment System website. For more information on California’s efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards, visit the California Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards website at www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/.

Staff writer Shea Johnson contributed to this story.

Lynnea Lombardo may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at LLombardo@VVDailyPress.com.


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