Laurie Kimbrel | Smarter Balance Assessments – What is the history behind these tests?

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There has been a great deal of media coverage recently about state national education issues and much of it is confusing and contradictory.  Many of these news reports use jargon and terms that can be unclear such as “Common Core Standards”, “No Child Left Behind”, and “Smarter Balanced Assessments”.   As parents, we hear bits and pieces of these reports but not many of us have the time to wade through it all to put together the pieces of the story.

The Roots of our state assessment system go all the way back to 1965

On April 9, 1965, the Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.  This landmark legislation allocated large amounts of financial resources to meet the needs of students from low-income homes.  For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that some students need more services to reach the goals that are set for all students.  The federal money allocated to schools for low-income students is referred to as Title I funds.   ESEA is a law with a limited lifespan and therefore, has been reauthorized by congress several times since 1965.  For more information about ESEA, click here.

No Child Left Behind was a new name for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

In 2002, President George W. Bush reauthorized ESEA and renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  For the first time, the federal government created a large role for itself in pubic education with the mandate that all states must have student assessment systems that expose achievement gaps between groups of students.  NCLB also came with a series of sanctions for schools that didn’t meet targets, which increased dramatically each year.  In California, the STAR tests were created in order to meet the federal requirements of NCLB.  Despite widespread dissatisfaction with NCLB, these tests were given in California up until Spring 2013.  At Tam District, our test scores have had an upward trend for the past decade.

Common Core Standards change the national dialogue

Part of the backlash against NCLB was because all fifty states had the flexibility to adopt different standards for what students need to know and be able to do as well as different systems to assess student achievement.  The Common Core Standards initiative was borne out of the frustration of the inconsistent standards and testing systems.    They are an attempt to nationally standardize knowledge and skills taught to all students.  Although the Common Core Standards have been the topic of some controversy, they were written by educators and focus on using information and skills to solve real world problems.  Under Common Core, the same skills that have always been taught will continue to be taught and there is now an increased emphasis on the application of knowledge.

The new state testing system will assess students on the Common Core Standards

Last  spring all school districts in California  assessed students using a new system known as “Smarter Balanced” tests.  This new set of tests are aligned to the Math and English Language Arts Common Core Standards and will include both multiple choice questions as well as performance tasks that require students to apply knowledge and solve problems.  At the high school level, only 11th graders will be tested.  For more information about these assessments click here

Data will be more useful than ever

The smarter balanced assessment system is a mandatory requirement from the state for all schools in California.   The information gathered will be available to schools, teachers and parents relatively quickly and it promises to be more useful than data received in the past.  Additionally, the inclusion of performance tasks will allow a level of understanding of a student’s ability to apply knowledge.  For sample performance tasks click here.

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