Common Core/SBAC/PARCC/Testing/Scores?

The following is a simple explanation of Common Core/SBAC/Testing/Scores

This is not meant as a political exchange, and any comments that are not respectful or helpful will not be posted.

Common Core is a set of state standards aimed at student success. Previously, 50 states had 50 different sets of standards for students to master, making it impossible for families to compare the educational experiences for their students. A family moving across state lines had no way of knowing if their student in California was as successful as one in Maryland and colleges did not know if a student in Washington had the same body of knowledge as a student coming from Florida. Common Core aims to teach students the same high standards in most of the 50 states, as nearly every state in the country has signed on. It’s not the ‘what’ students learn so much as the how–more critical thinking, more explanation in responses (as in show me where you found that answer). You can read more about Common Core here.

In order to assess student achievement, states have always used standardized tests. Previously California used the CST, now it has chosen the SBAC. To measure the learning under Common Core, the two most common tests are PARCC and SBAC. The big differences from previous years is that the tests are taken online. Answers can require a response that requires composing a paragraph, rather than an A) through D) bubble choice. In addition they can be customized to each student. If a student gets a problem wrong, the test reverts to simpler problems. This allows teachers to see if the student understands the concepts, but not the language at a specific grade level.

Schools, teachers and students have been transitioning in the last few years to the new standards. This meant extra work for teachers as they found new materials to teach with, as textbooks didn’t align with the new standards right away. Teachers have relied on handouts, websites and more to provide the material to students. Schools needed to upgrade technology (computers and Internet accessibility) to allow students to take the test and districts had to provide the professional development to teachers in order for them to teach the new standards. Students have had to adapt to a whole new test format. Instead of filling in multiple choice bubbles, they had to learn keyboarding skills and online graphing skills. Instead of choosing a bubble, some answers are in paragraph form.

Students are tested in grades 3-8, and again in 11th grade for ELA and Math. Tenth grade students are tested for Science. In 11th grade, students’ scores will be used as the CSU and CCC Early Assessment Program. Successful completion will allow students to bypass entrance exams for CSU and CCC admission. Learn more here.

What does this mean for test scores? As with anything, it takes a few tries to get things running smoothly. As teachers get more comfortable with the standards, it will be easier to teach. As students become accustomed to the rigor of the new material, they will feel more comfortable going into the tests, and once schools iron out all the bugs, students won’t think twice about the new formats. In other words, in a couple of years, the first year jitters will be gone and the results will be more indicative of actual performance.

In the meantime, if you see a dramatic change in test scores it could be because the schools weren’t ready–they lacked professional development, technology, or ways to implement the material. Conversely, if a school’s scores jumped up, they were likely well prepared for the new test.

The one thing that parents can’t do is compare the old results (2012 and before) to the new test scores, as they are not the same test and students were not tested on the same things. For parents looking to move to a new school in the next few years, it’ll be a little murkier trying to use data to compare anything. Feel free to ask administrators about their scores–and what they are doing to improve for future years.