SFUSD test driving new computerized testing system 

For years now, our students have been sitting down each spring to take standardized tests — you know what I’m talking about — where they spend hours looking over a test booklet and filling in multiple-choice answer bubbles with a pencil.

Well, with the shift to the Common Core State Standards the majority of those tests are finally fading away. And I’m happy to say that new and better tests are taking their place.

Taking it for a spin

Beginning this month, San Francisco Unified School District students in third through eighth grade, and many students in the 11th grade, will be taking a test drive of standardized tests called Smarter Balanced Assessments. The results of this year’s tests will not be shared with parents or teachers.

The tests are going to let the company that created them know where to make improvements before the test results are officially reported. Taking the tests across this district will also help our schools figure out how to improve testing conditions before next year’s official testing season. So, we are encouraging students to take them seriously — in fact, they have a very important job as testers of the test.

It’s time for a change

A little background: California is one of 44 states that have adopted a new set of standards to better prepare students. Called Common Core, these standards increase academic rigor in the classroom.

So it makes sense that the standardized test needs to improve too. A national group, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, has developed a series of computerized assessments to do just that.

Using a secure Internet connection, students will take the exam on a computer. What will happen is instead of just picking an answer from a list (like the old days), students will interact with the test using drag-and-drop, responding to questions from a video, and even highlighting and moving text.

These new tests use computer-adaptive technology — meaning they automatically generate the next test question for each student based on his or her previous answer. This really drills down to help parents and educators understand more precisely where students are in their learning.

Remember, it is just a test drive. The California Department of Education made a smart move to make sure that our schools had the time needed to make this big transition and that the test makers had the opportunity to improve the tests.

In the coming months, we will listen to feedback from our teachers and students. Our feedback will be given to the group that created the SBAC.

For more information on Common Core State Standards and the SFUSD’s assessments, go to www.sfusd.edu/commoncore.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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