SFUSD superintendent takes new standardized testing for a spin before classroom rollout next week 

click to enlarge Before taking the state’s new Smarter Balanced Assessment next week, some SFUSD students took a practice exam Tuesday. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Before taking the state’s new Smarter Balanced Assessment next week, some SFUSD students took a practice exam Tuesday.

San Francisco Unified School District students will begin taking computer-based testing next week for the first time since the more rigorous assessment replaced the California's STAR testing program.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment — designed for third- through eighth-grade students, along with 11th-graders, as an alternative to the Standardized Testing and Reporting program — focuses on critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. Students took practice versions of the test last year, the results of which were not included in their records.

Essentially, the tests aim to measure what students know based on the new Common Core State Standards in mathematics and language arts, the curriculums for which rolled out districtwide this school year and in 2013-14, respectively, said Ritu Khanna, assistant superintendent for research, planning and accountability at the SFUSD.

The former standardized testing primarily asked students multiple-choice questions. The new tests are done on computers and sometimes offer two or three possible correct choices. Students are also tasked with creating a constructed response in which they defend their answer, Khanna explained.

Tests are also designed to keep students from simply guessing answers, said Brady Fell, program administrator for achievement assessment at the SFUSD.

"The students really have to know what they're answering, and if not the test is going to determine that they are guessing," Fell said.

In fact, the tests are designed to catch specifically which part of a question a student might not understand. The computer adaptive portion of the tests will adjust with every three to five questions to level off how a student is answering.

"What it really is doing is determining at what standard the student either knows an answer or doesn't know an answer," Fell said.

Superintendent Richard Carranza knows firsthand what it's like to take the assessment. He took a practice math test Tuesday at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, with the help of a few fifth-graders.

The first problem on the test was posed in two sentences via a computer: "Each page in a picture album has three rows, and four pictures fit in each row. How many pictures fit on each page?"

"It sounds like there is some multiplication," Carranza commented to student Jailynn Bermedez, who was standing by to help the superintendent navigate the exam.

"I think there is, too," the 10-year-old said.

Together, they reached the correct answer of 12.

After completing the practice test, Carranza likened the experience to solving everyday problems.

"In a 21st-century skill type of way, this is what you do in the workplace all the time," he said. "You're constantly sketching and thinking and then testing it out and coming back and trying it out and seeing if it works. It's kind of real world."

District officials acknowledged that the first year of testing might yield lower test scores than when the standardized tests were last implemented in the 2012-13 school year, but said that this year's results will serve as a baseline for future assessments.

Students will begin taking the new assessment next week when California's testing window opens; it runs through May 29. Parents should check with their child's school for exact dates.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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