Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 21, 2015

Smarter Balanced beam

Filed under: Alameda, School — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

In September families in AUSD will receive scores for the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test, aka the Smart Balanced Test.  Apparently you can decide to opt your student out of this test, but how else will you know how to arbitrarily decide on how good a school is without test scores?

I think a good warning to most parents is, when they get the scores is: don’t panic.  I keep telling myself this because (1) I’m a worrier and (2) a bit of a tiger mom.  I’m not necessarily proud of the second thing, but at least I can recognize it in myself.

Here’s a short video that explains how to read the test:

I’m a little bothered by the fact that “Emily” performed poorly on the Math and Science portion of the tests.  I expected more of “Emily.”

Here’s a great slide from AUSD’s presentation at next week’s School Board meeting of the difference between the old Star test and this one:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.00.38 AM

So here’s one issue I have with the test that I’m hoping can be answered is the seeming subjective nature of some of the scoring, for example:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.04.13 AM

The “Communicating Reasoning” portion of the Math score, now, sometimes 2 + 2 just equals 4, and to “model” how that conclusion was reached is, well, pointless.  I’m sure that the testing is much more complex than that, but if the idea is that all kids reach conclusions in different ways, some kids may reach a satisfactory conclusion in a way that cannot be modeled through the testing design.  But, I’m guessing that’s a small portion of kids…

Anyway, I think the take away message of all this is: don’t compare this to the Star test because they’re not the same.  And the main question I want answered is: how does this affect Program Improvement Status of Title I schools.   Right now, schools in Program Improvement are in a holding pattern and have been for many years during the implementation of this.  It’s great for schools that were just on the cusp of entering into PI Status, but hellacious for schools that entered into the process and are indefinitely in limbo.

So…did anyone consider having their kids take the practice Smarter Balanced Test at home?  I mean, I didn’t because I forgot about it, but now that I’m seeing again…


  1. The District knows the scores and is preparing for parent and community panic. The Common Core shifts from rote learning to a writing intensive curriculum. The District was given State money to prepare and has had three years to do so. Only 30% of kids in NY tested proficient on their Common Core assessment, and achievement gaps widened. This caused a firestorm of controversy. Wild prediction…the poor schools will still be poor and the better schools will be a little below mediocre.No administrator will lose their job over this and the District will ask for a parcel tax to raise scores.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — August 21, 2015 @ 6:42 am

  2. 1. Oh you nailed ! so what’s the obvious solution ?

    Comment by MI — August 21, 2015 @ 9:12 am

  3. 2. Why, a parcel tax, of course. You did ask for the obvious, not the best, right?

    Comment by Not A. Alamedan — August 21, 2015 @ 9:39 am

  4. Meh. What tests largely measure is how good you are at taking tests.

    Comment by Kristen — August 21, 2015 @ 9:45 am

  5. People always disparage test-taking ability as a trivial life-skill.

    But what are some requirements for good test taking?
    a) preparation
    b) focus on the task at hand
    c) ability to perform under pressure
    d) ability to perform under time constraints
    e) ability to discern best (not always perfect) answers to questions

    These seem like pretty important life skills to me.

    Comment by Brock — August 21, 2015 @ 10:01 am

  6. 3. Capt. Obvious mentioned the parcel tax and I’m asking for alternatives since #1 seemed snarky/critical of all points listed.

    5. those are good skills to have, but for people who don’t have them, tests can be torture so what do we do? Being constantly measured doesn’t do much for self esteem if you are lacking. We are going to be judged in life so it is good to get used to it, but for kids they need some space to grow before they get saddled with that reality.

    So if a test reveals that a majority of group of kids, particularly a majority, are somehow lacking in any of these skills, the test has done it’s job, but the work of teaching has just begun. Looking back at second grade you could just ask the teacher which kids exhibited which skills. They would have a good assessment.

    We have two children, now grown, and one is great at tests and one is not. The one who does not test well, does read well unlike his father but his brain is wired similarly. He compounds that with lack of preparation in subjects he doesn’t like or classes with teachers he doesn’t like. It is not a great quality and he’s gone from dean’s list to academic probation and back. His brother always understood to tell people what they want to hear so he would be left to his own devices, but he was naturally better equipped with basic skills to make that choice. As parents we don’t really need tests to understand these things about our children either. We aren’t dragon parents and if we were perhaps the younger kid would have learned to tow the line better, but one suspects it would have been at some other price, like a lot of blow back at us.

    Long and short is that, for all the value of data, I think we have too much emphasis on testing. Politically, it is ironic that Republicans can’t agree on Common Core because they would seem to be the ones who would prefer to measure teachers with crude tools for how well they teach such as their students test scores. Using tests for gauging teachers is a secondary, as is gauging school performance, and we can’t agree on what the data indicates anyway.

    Comment by MI — August 21, 2015 @ 10:52 am

  7. Interestingly is the Democrats who are pushing to retain “Test and Punish” for measuring a school’s effectiveness in the current reauthorization of ESEA (the best known version is NCLB).

    As for the observation of a child’s disposition toward test taking, I would suggest a parent could use this information in planning their child’s academic future. After you have results from elementary school and you believe your child’s test results do not reflect their intellectual capability, then encourage them to engage to develop extra curricular skills beyond academics. While test taking like the SAT/ACT will be important a well rounded high school resume will help for college admission. Finally, there are a number of professions which use testing as a gatekeeper including doctors, lawyers, accountants and teachers.

    Comment by Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonAUSD) — August 22, 2015 @ 9:20 am

  8. Interesting. I wonder why at Khan Academy you watch a short video and then are asked questions relevant to the subject matter and don’t proceed to next step till you mastered that particular skill. It shows what you don’t understand and what part you might need help at and where a teacher might need to step in. Failure is the first step in learning. Kids need to fail and struggle to learn how to use their brains.

    Maybe It’s how we look at look at tests. Maybe we just need to just be honest with students and parents and really tell them what level their students are academically instead on moving them on.

    Every Student is a Special Needs Child and we need to stop Bullshitting ourselves and all concerned about how they really are doing.

    This is a Test the District and Schools have Failed at.

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — August 22, 2015 @ 9:57 am

  9. The only Reason the Republicans aren’t leading the charge on this one is “states rights” and religious home schooling. Obama’s education policy has been one of his worst areas and I don’t see that changing.

    good points about testing, and of course there are guys like David Boies who is dyslexic yet managed to pass the notoriously difficult bar exam. A point to be made is that schools should help in identifying why kids don’t test well and even help their tax paying parents figure out how best to enhance their child’s progress through extra curriculars even if no public funds are kicked in for those endeavors. When I was in school, by second grade we were quickly sorted out into four layers from smart kids down to dumb kids and that stuck, right through high school.

    Comment by MI — August 22, 2015 @ 10:05 am

  10. This isn’t a Republican Democrat Issue. It’s about the Kids and their Families and whats best.

    We have the Technology to enhance the learning experience for the students and teachers yet it’s not the focus from the District.

    Computers have been at the Schools for over 20 years and we are acting like this is new phenomenon.

    Regarding being sorted out. When I was in first grade in Sunnyvale I was in Classes with kids 1st – 5th grade. Everyone worked at their own level and worked in groups and everyone helped each other. This was in 1960 and was trial program as a district. When I moved to Alameda I was bored to death in the classes but there were a few who challenged the students.To them I am very grateful. Like anything in life it’s usually the 80 / 20 with 80 percent mailing it in.

    Since we have the tools and technology we should utilize all that we can.

    Failing at something just shows where we need to focus on and where the opportunity is.

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — August 22, 2015 @ 10:39 am

  11. This Teacher Gets It.

    A growing brain needs to struggle

    “This is hard.” Good. Research shows that the brain is able to grow and change, and struggling supports brain growth. Struggling means to keep trying, to problem solve, to work at it, to put in effort. When kids say, “It’s hard” we need to respond in a way that encourages them to keep at it, to persevere. We must let them know that things are going to be hard, and that’s ok. Here are two brief videos that show why struggle is not only ok, it’s good.

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — August 22, 2015 @ 11:34 am

  12. AUSD has a new website page devoted to the Smarter, Balanced Assessments (or CAASPP). The page includes an FAQ, as well as links to other layperson-friendly resources about the tests.

    You can find the page here:

    BTW, we have just learned that the state now expects to release the CAASPP results the second week of September. Once the district receives those results, it has 20 days to send the individual student reports out to families.

    Comment by Susan Davis (Community Affairs, AUSD) — August 25, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

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