Education Matters: Smarter and more balanced


No, Smarter Balanced is not a butter substitute. It’s a ridiculous name for tests that assess student achievement on the new Common Core State Standards.

Not sure about balanced, but one can argue that kids may be getting smarter.

The Smarter Balanced test results from last spring were just released. These tests are part of the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress system (CAASPP).

Students in third through eighth grades, and in 11th grade, were first assessed in the spring of 2015 to establish a baseline for Common Core achievement. This past spring was the second time students took the tests.

The Smarter Balanced tests, all taken online, are designed to measure student understanding of the new standards, and are more rigorous than previous state assessments.

The tests are adaptive, meaning follow-up questions depend on whether the student answers the first question correctly. If so, the following question is harder; if not, it is easier.

The new tests require more reading, critical thinking, problem-solving techniques and written answers than earlier assessments.

Although the achievement gap remains stubbornly stuck in place, overall growth from 2015 to 2016 for most school districts throughout the state was reported.

The state has four categories for the assessments: standards not met, nearly met, met or exceeded.

The scores for local districts are in the chart at the end of this column.

To compare with the San Dieguito Union High School District, Poway and Carlsbad are included in the chart, although it’s not entirely a fair comparison for two reasons.

First, Carlsbad and Poway are both unified districts, meaning they serve students in grades kindergarten through 12th. San Dieguito only serves students in seventh through 12th grades.

Second, no comparison between districts can be judged fairly without taking into account the percentage of low-income, special education and English learner students.

As one of the wealthier districts in the county, with less diversity than many others, San Dieguito has an advantage in student achievement over other districts.

Nevertheless, because these are nearby districts, I’ve included them in the table.

For high schools, the goal is to ensure that all 11th-graders are on track to be college ready.

According to EdSource, “Most community colleges and the California State University system use the ‘standard exceeded’ level to determine that students are ready for college and do not need to take remedial courses.

“The ‘standard met’ level indicates that students are conditionally ready for college, but must take an approved yearlong math and/or English course their senior year and pass with a C or better.”

Statewide, 59 percent of 11th-graders met or exceeded targets in English, while only 33 percent did so in math.

San Dieguito, as well as Carlsbad and Poway, well surpassed state averages in both subjects.

SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of instructional services, Mike Grove, said math scores tend to be lower because skills “are being assessed in a very different way than before.” He said the shift in instruction is more significant than for English courses.

On the other hand, Grove also said there was concern about the English portions of the tests because so much more reading and literacy comprehension was required.

He said overall he was pleased with the results, seeing incremental growth in most areas.

Grove said he and his staff are dissecting the results school by school and grade level by grade level, for seventh, eighth, and 11th grades.

For 11th grade, SDUHSD will be comparing San Dieguito high schools to other San Diego County high schools with similar demographics, like Scripps Ranch High, La Jolla High, and Coronado, as well as other high schools state-wide.

The California Dept. of Education’s website – – has results for all Calif. schools and school districts.

Look for presentations on the Smarter Balanced test results from all local school districts at school board meetings in the coming weeks.

Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at