TAHOE CITY, Calif. — After a majority of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s schools saw increases in academic performance index scores for 2013, the tests used to calculate the ratings are a thing of the past.
On Oct. 2, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that essentially suspends the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program — comprising four tests, including the California Standards Tests — and starts the transition to an assessment system that aligns with Common Core State Standards.
“It doesn’t make sense to be tested on old standards,” said Dave Curry, director of Education Services for TTUSD.
Common Core is an education reform movement designed to provide youth with knowledge and skills they need to be college- and career-ready in the 21st century, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
California adopted Common Core on Aug. 2, 2010, and is one of 45 states to do so, not including the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity.
Common Core is not without its skeptics, according to various media reports, with criticism ranging from the standards themselves to the cost of implementation.
While full implementation of the standards — limited to math and English language arts for now — is planned for the California 2014-15 school year, TTUSD teachers have started creating Common Core lesson plans, said Rob Leri, district superintendent.
One such teacher is Erin LeFevers, English department chair for North Tahoe High School.
“Instead of saying we’re reading ‘Lord of the Flies,’ and you’re going to write an essay on it, then over here we’re going to have our grammar lesson, and then we’re going to have our vocab lesson — (now) everything ties together,” she said.
This helps move away from the “rote memorization” (retaining information through repetition) of No Child Left Behind, she said, and toward “application, digging deeper and getting into critical thinking.”
This shift in education standards will be reflected in the new exams offered through the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
According to the district, tests will include questions and performance tasks to measure student critical thinking and problem solving skills — rather than multiple choice, fact-recall bubble answers.
“It’s nice because there are no bubble tests in the real world,” LeFevers said. “You have to be able to think and justify.”
A field test of the exam will happen this school year, Curry said, with half of the students being tested in math and the other half in English language arts. Exam results will not be reported to the school district.
Specifics on which students will be tested this year are not clear at this time, Curry said.
Initial results in New York and Kentucky showed a large decline in the number of students passing the Common Core aligned exam compared to prior tests, according to media reports.
“I think it will be a transition,” said Joanna Mitchell, principal of North Tahoe High. “As with anything, training the students to expect a different test of their knowledge will take some time.”
Additionally, TTUSD students will complete the field test exams on computers.
“My only concern is that it will be computer-based, and so it’s just working out the logistics,” Mitchell said. “How to get everyone tested in an orderly fashion on the technology that we have.
“... Our building is definitely capable of supporting that, but figuring out exactly how that’s going to happen will be a transition, as well; an adjustment.”
“It’s nice because there are no bubble tests in the real world. You have to be able to think and justify.”
North Tahoe High School