Local districts looking at new assessment for Common Core standards

By Karen Billing

At the Sept. 25 Del Mar Union School District board meeting it was a mere footnote that district students earned an 955 Academic Performance Index (API) score based on their 2012-13 STAR testing.

“Truly last year the message we gave teachers is that the 1997 standards (that the STAR test is based upon) no longer exist,” said Shelley Peterson, assistant superintendent of instruction. “The expectation is a focus on the Common Core standards.”

The STAR test sunsets in July of 2014 and right now the district, as well as all others in the state and nation, are in the midst of the transition to the Common Core standards that schools will be held accountable for in the 2014-15 school year.

With new standards come new assessments.

Assembly Bill 484, the bill to overhaul the state’s standardized testing system with new tests aligned with Common Core, passed on the Senate floor on Sept. 11 and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Should it be signed, the Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) would replace STAR in 2014-15. Once that change is enacted, API will no longer be calculated.

There will be a gap where there will be no pupil-level data as The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium is preparing the new assessment tests. Field tests will be given in spring 2014 with the first official administering of the MAPP in spring 2015.

The U.S. Department of Education has objected to California’s gap in testing and has said the state could face sanctions and see funding withheld. Peterson said should there be withheld funding, it could impact DMUSD slightly but not as much as schools that receive more federal funding.

“There’s a strong belief that the government is not going to withhold money,” district superintendent Holly McClurg said.

The new MAPP tests will be given to grades 3-8 and 11. Science assessments will also be given to grades 5, 8 and 10.

Peterson said the DMUSD will take field tests in the spring in one subject test area. Students in grades 3 through 6 will take ELA (English Language Arts) or math tests, but not both.

On Sept. 19, the San Dieguito Union High School District board held a special workshop looking at sample questions from the practice Smarter Balance assessment MAPP test.

The MAPP test will be computerized and asks students for a completely different level of thinking and analyzing, things that did not exist on STAR tests, according to Michael Grove, associate superintendent of educational services.

For example a science reading may be used for an English language arts question or some questions require written answers that have several possible answers that receive a different amount of points.

The tests reflect a broader depth of knowledge required by the Common Core, asking students to critique, support ideas with details and examples, develop a logical argument, hypothesize, construct, apply concepts to solve non-routine problems, create, investigate and prove.

“The root of what this is, is integrating, synthesizing and analyzing evenly across [subject areas],” Superintendent Rick Schmitt said.

Grove said questions take math learned in September, March and December and apply that knowledge to a certain problem when students are used to learning one unit, being tested on it and moving on.

Diegueno Middle School was selected for a field testing assessment earlier in the year and the district held a focus group with students to find out what they thought of the test. Grove said the students had few problems with the technical part of it and that the kids knew how to do the math—once they figured out what the question was asking them to do.

Parts of the MAPP also include an hour performance task for students and teacher. Written answers are scored by a centralized system similar to Advanced Placement tests.

Trustee Joyce Dalessandro wondered how dropping a seventh grader in front of this new kind of test will reflect on the student or the school.

“The reality is they haven’t been held accountable for this type of thinking and learning,” Grove said.

He said it may be a “rude awakening” for students who have found a way to be successful in the old system. To that end, they won’t be able to compare STAR test results with MAPP test results. The first year will be a benchmark for growth.

Grove believes that the MAPP tests represent a vast improvement over the old assessments as they measure student learning though multiple modes rather than just pure multiple choice which emphasize recall.

Both districts know that keeping parents informed is an important step in the transition. As an example, a state that has faced a lot of backlash over Common Core rollout is New York, where

Peterson said districts made the transition without explaining the new system to parents, leaving them confused.

“The more public communication the better,” Peterson said, noting Del Mar has 26 presentations scheduled between October and December on Common Core and the new standards-based report cards.