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Common Core and New Assessments to Transform Dublin Education, Workshops for Parents Coming Feb 18-19

February 15, 2014

Oftentimes, it is difficult to identify a single issue that will impact each and every student in a school district. For the Dublin Unified School District and in neighboring cities, that day has arrived. Following the lead of a majority of the other states, California is adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). For most of us, that is a mouthful. Let us delve into what this all means.

To lay a foundation, one must have an understanding of the ongoing change to the philosophy of the school district. A few years ago, Superintendent Steve Hanke and the leadership of the district employed installed an organizational shift. The plan was to create a Professional Learning Community or PLC. A PLC will focus on three main ideas: a focus on learning, building a collaborative structure and creating a focus orientation. As an example, the bi-monthly collaboration days are meant for teachers to meet across grade levels or by subject to refine best practices and to share teaching strategies. Building an effective PLC is always an ongoing endeavor. However, it has placed the district in better position to adopt the new Common Core Standards.

The objective of CCS is centered on four questions. What do we want our students to learn? In any subject, there must be essential skills or standards to learn. But it is recognized that most students learn at a different pace. How will we know that they have learned it? This is where the Smarter Balanced Assessments come into play. This helps to monitor each learner’s progress. How will we respond when learning has not occurred? The key will be utilizing the data from the assessments. Equally important will be building time within the school day for interventions. Finally, how will we respond when learning has already occurred? For the students that have gained mastery, they will be provided enrichment activities as a method to gain an even deeper level of learning.

What also comes with the movement to CCS and SBAC is the end of standardized testing as we have known it over the past decade. Students will no longer complete their grade level testing with a number 2 pencil. Testing will be conducted on computers or tablets.

DUSD recognizes that these seismic changes to the teaching and testing landscape. In response, the district will host Parent Information Nights on February 19 & 20 at Dublin High School. A general session will occur at 6:30 PM. Following that, there will be a variety of breakout sessions covering many subjects (see attached schedule, which is subject to change). In advance of this event, had the opportunity to visit with two of the presenters. Dr. Kevin Grier and Jan Cohen will lead a workshop on understanding the Smarter Balanced Assessment in secondary education (grades 6-12). Ms. Cohen is a Math Teacher at Wells Middle School and Dr. Grier is its Principal. As it relates to the shift to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the one word that pops up among many parents is “confusion”.  As this is a departure from the familiar STAR testing regimen, please articulate what you think this movement to Common Core will mean to district students and our ability to implement them.

Wells Middle School Principal Dr. Kevin Grier

Dr. Kevin Grier

Kevin Grier: “The Common Core State Standards are a great set of learning objectives designed to ensure that students will be best prepared for college or a career upon graduation from high school.  As our society becomes more mobile the CCSS provide a consistency in grade levels across the nation so that if a student moves from one state to another state, the student will not have gaps in his/her learning.

“The new testing format is also a better way to check that students have mastered the learning beyond just simple recall or regurgitation of facts.  The whole movement in both the CCSS and the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) is to create students who can critically think through information, formulate an articulate response, and then be able present that information in a comprehensible manner to others.  While it may take some time to get used to the new way of taking in the information and being assessed on that information, in the long run, the students will be better prepared for life after high school.” One of the challenges of moving to CCSS is the lack of teaching materials for certificated staff and the reality that the tests will be taken on computers and/or tablets.  In advance of the trial run test this spring, what are your thoughts on both the technology capacity of our school sites and the ability to provide sufficient preparation for the exams?

Grier: “The publishers have been hard at work developing new teacher/student materials that work to support the CCSS.  However, for many veteran teachers, the CCSS has allowed them to be able to bring in instructional materials beyond the textbook to help support the learning.  The teachers have been freed from teaching primarily from the textbook and can channel their creativity in instruction to develop units of study that engage the students in deeper learning.

“The challenge for the new assessment system is getting students used to sitting down in front of a computer for periods of time to take an assessment.  The students (and the teachers) are learning how to use the tools within the computerized assessment system to respond to the wider variety of question formats than they have ever seen.  I feel that the students will adapt far quicker to the assessment than the adults, but I also feel that schools will want to re-evaluate how they are teaching the students to use technology and how they are developing basic keyboarding skills.” We have been told by education thought leaders that we should anticipate that statewide scores may dip on this initial test and that the scores will not be published. That said, might there be some benefit to evaluate these scores in some way to prepare students for testing in 2015?  Please explain.

Grier: “The State has told us that the 2014 SBAC scores will not be released to districts, schools, or students.  This is just a ‘test of the test’ and as such the State can see how the students respond to various questions and question formats to make sure that the results are a truer assessment of the learning.  I think what is important to do is to survey the students after the testing is completed on 1) what they felt they were prepared well for during the year, 2) what they wished they had been better prepared for, and 3) what technology skills they feel would be important to practice more often to be better prepared.  Most districts acknowledge that there will be an “implementation dip” because it is a new format but the end result of the new format of both learning (CCSS) and assessment (SBAC) will benefit students in the long run.”

Jan Cohen has served as a mathematics teacher at Wells Middle School since 2002. Prior to this, she worked as an Applications Programmer at IBM in San Jose. As an element of both CCSS and SBAC, she recognizes that in order to attain mastery in a subject, a student may be required to articulate their thinking. In the assessment, he or she may have to explain their methodology in approaching a question. As a mathematics instructor for many years, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will require your students to respond to math questions in a very different way – not filling out bubbles with a pencil, but to explain their thinking.  From what you know, please describe the differences for testing this year.

Jan Cohen

Jan Cohen

Jan Cohen: “This year’s testing differences will be huge for our students. In the past they had a block of questions to answer in pencil/bubble format. This year the test will be administered completely on a computer. Beside the length of time allocated for each test being much longer, they will be asked three different varieties of questions on the computer. Answers will be varied based on responses and length of time taken to answer previous questions. Some question are multiple choice type where there are more than one right answer and they need to select ALL right answers in order to get any credit for the question. Some ask the student to draw or graph using their computer tools and some ask the student much deeper questions as to why they may have responded the way they did … guessing will no longer be an option on these tests. The length of time each student will spend taking these tests will be unprecedented. The difficulty the students are going to have on the test will be the multiple correct answers and the reasoning as to which might be the ‘best’ answer.” What strategies have you and your teaching team taken to prepare students for taking this year’s exam.  Specifically, are you working in smaller groups and/or utilizing newer materials?

Cohen: “We are spending the majority of our time this year adjusting curriculum in preparation for the new testing formats. We are trying new materials and the students are seeing more projects and web resources — not just the textbook as the main resource. We are educating parents with Parent Information Nights at the high school. In the Math department we are spending a lot of time in vertical alignment, in other words, at middle school, we are working with the elementary teachers as well as the high school. We also are continuing our work horizontally, collaborating closely with our sister middle school, Fallon. To pull all of this together, we have a wonderful Math coach, Jaimie DeWitt, who is overseeing much of our developmental efforts as well as advising us of CCSS information and best practices for math.” The State Superintendent has announced that the results of the CCSS benchmarks will not be published as this will be viewed as a “trial run”.  However, might you find some benefit in evaluating this data?  Please explain. 

Cohen: “I understand the rationale of not publishing test results this year, they are trying to calibrate their test and do not need anyone (students, parents or teachers) critiquing possible “faulty questions.” However, I think it would greatly benefit us teachers in understanding what we need to do a better job teaching. I do not “teach to the test,” but after a test I will ask the kids what they felt they didn’t know enough about and I usually get a pretty good sense of where I need to do a better job. I feel we can best help our students when we see how we compare to the aggregate and are able to adjust for the maximum possible learning experiences.”

So, these are the views from a classroom teacher and an administrator on the changes that lie ahead for our students. The shift will be a fairly dramatic one. However, it is heartening to know that district staff–across all disciplines–are working together for a successful transition. applauds Ms Cohen, Dr Grier and all personnel that will provide their insights over two evenings.

Parent Information Nights on Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments:

  • Wednesday, February 19th and Thursday, February 20th
  • 6:30 – 8:30 PM
  • Dublin High School, Student Union
  • 8151 Village Parkway
  • Free onsite childcare will be provided by the DHS Leadership Class
Wells Middle School Campus

Wells Middle School Campus

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