15 Feb

History of the SBAC and How it Rose to a Nationwide Movement

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) was created in 2010 with the aim of producing a universal assessment system to help students be well prepared for college and careers. The creation of the tests aimed to produce a vigorous assessment of the new, challenging common core state standards (CCSS) and help educators and school districts align teaching to these new standards. The SBAC originally consisted of a consortium of 30 states that submitted a proposal for a $178m federal grant to develop a new, groundbreaking series of tests for students. In 2014 the federal grant came to an end and the SBAC was transferred to UCLA and became a public agency.

 

The SBAC is funded by the memberships of the 16 states, that currently offer the tests, and all tests have been available for students to take since April 2015. Testing costs around $28 per student for the full package of resources and although it can cost states a significant amount of money to introduce, the resources that are included can actually end up saving money and time for educators. Around 220 colleges nationwide accept the high school summative SBAC tests as evidence for college readiness for credit level courses.

 

The progressive tests were created using a dynamic process of field-testing and in Spring 2014, 4.2 million students took the first field tests which facilitated the evaluation of over 19,000 assessment items. This allowed for the first set of achievement standards to be set, which were a starting point for discussion about achievement standards across the states that took part and as a baseline measure for the future.

 

The SBAC is designed to be a valid and reliable approach to student assessment, providing actionable data to provide interventions to help students succeed. For states offering the tests, the SBAC provides three components developed by nearly 5000 teachers nationwide:

 

  • Formative and practice assessments with a digital library of resources for students and educators.
  • Interim assessments
  • Summative assessments towards college and career readiness in English, Language Arts and Math

 

The SBAC summative tests are available for students in grade 3-8th and high school and are all administered via an interactive online platform. The tests take between 2.5 – 4 hours for each component and are either marked digitally or by qualified professional scorers. The marks for each assessment are available in 2-3 weeks for parents, educators and students. Each student receives a result of 1,2,3 or 4 on each test with 1 representing a student who is minimally qualified and 4 a student who is thoroughly qualified.

 

The movement towards rigorous and valid assessment helps both states and the nation ensure that students are leaving high school with a diploma that prepares them for adult life. The SBAC provides a way to ensure that every student succeeds and every school district is accountable for that because of the tests.

 

25 Feb

Florida Moving Quickly to Integrate Common Core

With full implementation scheduled for the upcoming 2014-15 school season, Florida is quickly changing up its school system to integrate Common Core entirely. While still a hotbed of debate, Florida, more than many other states, has a lot of support in regards to the change from important figureheads in the community. Designed to better prepare all students for a successful career in academia and beyond, Common Core is transforming the way typical classroom lessons are taught.

The Common Core

Owing its roots to 1983s “A Nation at Risk”, many have long since supported the idea of a national educational standard all school must adhere to. This report by the then President Reagan began the “standards-based” education snowball that would eventually become Common Core. Prior to its implementation back in 2009, every state had been in charge of monitoring its own schools and administering yearly exams to make sure their students wee excelling. Florida was one of 48 states to immediately agree to design the program and has since adopted it, embedding it into the system over a period of five years, making this school year its fourth year in transition.

Transitory Pains

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the easiest phase for all. Indeed, the standards of Common Core are far more rigorous, leaving both students and teachers scratching their heads as they try to uphold the new rules. While some in the background decry it as the government trying to control the states, many teachers are praising it for what it is trying to accomplish. Instead of being a simple curriculum, it is a set of standards. So long as the teachers meet these, they can teach them however they like, resulting in a growth of creativity. According to those directly affected, language arts and math are now about explaining answers, not just the answers themselves. The idea behind this is that it builds comprehension far better than simply going through equations. The downside to this, is that textbooks are now obsolete. They were not written for Common Core, rendering them useless for the goals teachers are trying to get their kids to master.

Another interesting facet that separates it from the much debated FCAT is the fact that it is administered multiple times throughout the year. While such common testing brings about the ire of parents, many teachers are embracing the check-ins. Instead of only finding out if the students are performing below, at or above grade level standards close to the end of the school year, the continual testing means students can be helped back on track should they begin to fall behind. This then gives the teachers the power to correct or alter their teaching plans to account for gaps in certain areas.

Parental Problems

Unfortunately, such changes don’t go on without some form of parental involvement, namely in the area of homework help. Many of those standing against Common Core are the parents decrying the convoluted homework their children bring home and then ask for help with. Under the new standards, gone are the days of worksheets where passing is simply matching vocabulary words to their definitions or filling in a multiplication table. Many of the assignments handed out have the children explain how they got their results. Some people get very angry at this when their child’s answer ends up being correct but they are docked points because there was no explanation. This, however, highlights the importance of understanding how our thought processes work so that we can better learn and comprehend advanced issues in the future. Simply put, it’s a form of self-analysis.

Florida is only one in a long line of states undergoing a transformation as the first official year of Common Core looms in the distance. Surrounded by people on both sided of the argument, teachers are nonetheless altering their teaching methods to make sure their students are achieving standards while still enjoying the learning process. As it currently stands, Florida will only continue to adapt with no sign of repeal in the near future.