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Northshore prepares for new state tests

The Woodinville Weekly of Woodinville, Washington

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Students and parents in the Northshore School District need to be prepared for a new type of testing this year: the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Perhaps the most important thing to know is not to be alarmed if scores are lower than in past years.

"It's a new test, a new baseline. There's no way of comparing it to the HSPE or the MSP or the end of course," said Carolyn O'Keeffe, NSD deputy superintendent. "So we'll have a new baseline of student performance starting next year. And, you know, a lot of folks are worried about, 'Oh my gosh, they're going to fall off the performance cliff.' We hear this all the time. And what we just have to remember is, because it's a new test, you don't compare it to what we had before."

Kathleen Poole, the assistant superintendent for elementary education, added, "It will be a temptation, I think from parents. I certainly would do the same thing, like, 'Okay, my child used to be at a level 4, now he's at a level 3, oh my gosh, we've got a problem here.' No — completely different measurement."

It's not possible to "fail" the Smarter Balanced Assessments, they said. The goal is about getting more information on how to help students, and tracking growth.

Washington state has adopted the Common Core State Standards for Englishlanguage arts and math, and the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAs), given to students in grades 3'8 and 10-11, are designed to match the new standards. The Common Core standards are designed for career and college readiness, not just baseline proficiency, so they're a harder standard to meet.

Third graders have already started taking the SBAs, and students in other grades will take them later this month andin May. Testing schedules for different schools can be found at Scores from the SBAs are supposed to be back within three, weeks.

Another change is that the SBAs will be taken on computers. High schoolers haven't taken online tests before, and parents may want to make sure that younger students are comfortable with basic computer tasks such as using a mouse and trackpad.

The SBAs have two parts. The first is computer adaptive testing, which includes multiple choice questions as well as short written responses. The questions adjust to become harder or easier depending on each student's responses. The second part is performance tasks, which are complex, multi-part questions with extended written responses.

Scores for the SBAs are different from previous tests like the MSP and HSPE. Students will get scores ranging from 2000 to 3000, which — unlike previous tests — can be compared year-to-year. Students will also get achievement level descriptors ranging from 1 to 4 (novice, developing, proficient and advanced.)

The Smarter Balanced Assessments are already being used in 21 other states, so that gives some insight on what the transition will be like. Last year, 80 to 90 percent of Northshore students met or exceeded standards in Englishlanguage arts, O'Keeffe said. Based on results in other states, they're predicting that perhaps 38 percent of students will meet standards in the first year of the SBAs.

With that in mind, the State Board of Education is looking at high school graduation requirements and determining two different cutoff scores. One will be for career and college readiness, which is a federal requirement, and the other is for high school graduation. The SBAs won't be used as placement tests at any grade level.

Parents can find more information about the SBAs at, including a link to practice tests. Teachers have been using new teaching materials and curriculum that covers the Common Core that will be tested by the SBAs, and teachers have also practiced the logistic aspects of the test such as the online format.

"Teachers have been teaching to the standards all year, for the past couple years," Poole said.

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Original Publication Date: April 6, 2015

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