Schools to switch state testing program

By: Patty McAlpin Lincoln News Messenger reporter
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The Western Placer Unified School District is making classroom technology upgrades and conducting training seminars for teachers to prepare students to take a new state test. The days when students filled out bubbles with a pencil to indicate their answer on a scantron form for a state standardized test is almost over. By 2013-14, every student will be required to use a computer to enter answers to questions on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, said Mary Boyle, the school district’s assistant superintendent of educational services. “The new test comes online in the 2014-15 school year but we have opted to do a trial run in the 2013-14 school year after the regular STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) testing,” Boyle said. Students in grades three through 11 are required to take the SBAC test based on Common Core State Standards adopted by the state of California in 2010. STAR testing will still measure performance in social studies and science. “All testing will be computer-based,” Boyle said, “and the computer will adapt the test to each student.” The computer program will not allow a student to miss a question and go on to the next, according to Boyle. Instead, the program will adapt the test and lower the level of the next question until the student is successful. The program will then raise the difficulty of the questions until the student is unsuccessful. “The result is a true range of learning the student has achieved,” Boyle said. Different questions The nature of the questions will change. “Students will have to determine what the problem is that needs to be solved before coming up with a solution,” Boyle said. For example, on the math test, a student will be asked to decipher a heating bill and use math to determine if an investment in insulation was worth the cost, based on results of the gas heating bill. “The test will require much deeper levels of thinking,” Boyle said. “The testing is going to be rigorous.” The state standards were adopted, based on internationally benched expectations, Boyle said. New order The new standards will change the way math is taught and the order of instruction, according to Boyle. The old order is out Instead of introducing probability and statistics in kindergarten, those lessons would be taught in fifth or sixth grade. “We want to concentrate on number sense,” Boyle said. For example, third-graders will work with fractions, cutting objects apart and measuring. In fourth-grade, students will start adding fractions using like and unlike denominators. “Sometimes, we try to jump to the abstract too soon,” Boyle said. “If a student doesn’t understand the difference between 2/5 and 3/8, he or she can’t add them. Common Core cements the understanding first and the abstraction second. That will change the way we teach.” First Street School fourth-grade teacher Jeaninne Kato was one of 80 teachers who attended workshops this month about Common Core State Standards and Depth of Knowledge Professional Development led by the Placer County Office of Education. Assistance was from Western Placer Unified District peer coaches Gregg Law and Lori Fury. More workshops are scheduled in October, January and March. “I believe the intent of testing students in a more authentic manner via Common Core Standards is a more accurate way of assessing all students,” Kato said. “That is to say, students must be able to perform and explain what they learned and why. This approach takes into account that all children learn in different modalities and at different rates.” Enough computers? Kato is concerned about whether the district will have enough computers for student testing. “The new standards will require the testing to be done on computers,” Kato said. “That assumes all schools will have enough working computers available for the testing window. Many schools just have one lab available. There must also be people on site ready to fix any computers that fail in the middle of testing.” State standardized testing takes place during the last 12 weeks of school. The district’s technology director Bob Lyons said new copper cabling, fiber optic cabling, switches and wireless have been installed at First Street School, Phoenix High School, Sheridan School and Glen Edwards Middle School. The network was also upgraded to include Microsoft Office 2010. Adobe CS6 licensing was purchased for the high school. Cost of upgrades for those four schools totaled $736,000, Lyons said. Two computer labs, the library and one data closet need to be rewired at Lincoln High School, according to Lyons. Carlin C. Coppin Elementary School has approximately 20 classrooms that need to be rewired, according to Lyons. Contract award The school board awarded a contract last week to Pinnacle Communication to do the work at the high school and Carlin C. Coppin at a total cost of $97,396. “There is one Internet connection per classroom at Carlin C. Coppin and Creekside Oaks elementary schools,” Lyons said. “We are updating copper and fiber writing so those classrooms can have up to 10 data connections per classroom.” “We are hoping with the way we wrote the proposal to get a Microsoft certified professional installer,” Lyons said. “That way, we can get refunded for Coppin and Lincoln High School and then put the money into Creekside Oaks.” Lyons said the district can apply for voucher funds from a federal Microsoft settlement fund to cover the work. The district needs approximately $100,000 to recable 38 classrooms at Creekside Oaks, according to Lyons. The district anticipates upgrades to be finished in classrooms by the end of December, Boyle said. There are four computer labs at the high school. Each elementary school has a drop-in lab. The two middle schools, Glen Edwards Middle School and Twelve Bridges Middle School, have two computer labs. There are two laptop labs at the high school and one laptop lab at Glen Edwards Middle School. “I don’t know if the mobile labs will have the capability to accommodate this type of testing,” Boyle said. “Logistics will be a challenge. We have not figured out how to test between 200 and 400 third through fifth-grade students on a site. We have to look into mobile labs and see what is possible.”