Many educators predict the results won’t be pretty.
They say students are just beginning to grasp the new academic standards called Common Core, and many teachers admit they need more training to teach the new content as their schools transition to a different curriculum.
“We ask people to use patience,” says Bill Ainsworth, chief spokesman for the California Department of Education. “This year is a starting point. We would caution parents to see the test as just one indicator of where students are at.”
Families across the state already have lots of questions.
The poll also finds one in four California voters doesn't know or doesn't care much about the academic standards driving the need for the new exam.
Researchers say that’s important data because low test scores might cause more families to opt out of these state-backed education reforms.
“I should know exactly what’s going on, but it’s not as clear as it could be,” says Rosa Cardenas, a mother in the Lafayette School District. “I feel like I have to go back to school to understand all this information.”
Cardenas’ 11-year-old son, Paul Munnelly, took the new online exam last year in fifth grade.
She and her husband, Michael Munnelly, noticed Paul’s teachers did not “teach to the test” as they did with the previous multiple choice assessment, called the Standardized Test and Reporting exam, or STAR.
“Paul and the other students would practice and practice taking the STAR test for what it seemed like a month,” Michael says. “I found that to be very intimidating for the students. That didn’t happen last year.”
The new test features so-called computer adaptive technology, which makes it harder to predict what is actually on the test.
Questions become easier or more difficult, depending on a student’s ability to answer them correctly.
An interesting twist in all this?
Despite digitizing the test itself, the state is sending scores the old-fashioned way to families: printing individual student scores and sending them in the mail.
Parents will now get scorecards based on their children's performance.
Levels of performance are divided into four categories:
Standards not met
Standards nearly met
Each student is also given a score, which will fall between 2,000 and 3,000 -- as well as a brief overall description of how he/she did.
“The scorecard actually looks pretty easy to understand,” Cardenas says, after viewing online samples that the state has provided. “If that’s how it’s going to come out, it will be much easier to understand.”
Other states, like Oregon and Connecticut, are also using a similar online test aligned with Common Core standards. So far, scores in those states are higher than expected but still below what families are used to seeing.
In California, state education officials have been warning the public not to be alarmed if they don’t get the results they were hoping for.
They say some districts made the curriculum switch under Common Core a few years ago, but others did not.
That means some students took the new test last year, even though they weren't fully prepared.
Schools will not be penalized and students will not be held back for low scores this year because they serve as the baseline for improvement.
The California State PTA is helping in a big way by answering all the burning questions parents have, such as: What’s a good or bad score? How will scores be used? Who grades the writing portion of the test?
The organization created a parent’s guide to understanding the test, and it’s also helping districts plan weekend workshops in which parents can go over the results together.
“We’re just trying to help people feel comfortable,” says Celia Jaffe, vice president of education for the state PTA. “Some parents get it and some have not been fully informed yet.”
Paul Munnelly, the son of Rosa and Michael, thinks he did a decent job on the test.
“I went through it until the end,” he says. “I got a little frustrated, but I’m pretty certain I didn’t fail.”