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JUST IN: LAUSD board members favor a delay in CA testing

Vanessa Romo | November 14, 2014

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Steve Zimmer, Board Meeting March 4, 2014

Members of the LA Unified school board as well as several administrators suggested today that the district should delay using the results of the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced computerized test as means of measuring academic growth next year.

Their views came a day after officials from statewide educational organizations told the California Board of Education that it should postpone using the outcomes of this year’s reading and math tests to establish base scores for schools and districts. According to EdSource, the officials argued that many districts need more time to implement the state’s new Common Core curriculum while others do not posses the technological infrastructure to carry out the exam.

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the board’s Common Core Technology Committee, said today she agrees with them.

“I support delaying the use of [Smarter Balanced] results to make judgements not because of any lack of adoption on our part but because of the lack of experience students have had with the technology and testing platform,” she told LA School Report.

Ratliff said teachers are successfully using the Common Core standards to guide instruction and that they’ve received sufficient professional development, which she herself has attended. But, she says, the district is not yet technologically equipped for the test.

“I’m still not convinced that iPads are the best technology for all of our students to be using to take such high stakes tests,” she said, adding that many students face other obstacles, including a lack basic keyboarding skills, which is no longer being taught universally across the district.

“A delay in making the scores ‘high stakes’ would be appropriate under the circumstances and lower the stress levels for our students, teachers, administrators, and parents,” she said.

Her colleague on the board, Steve Zimmer agreed, saying a delay for another year “would be a good idea.”

The Smarter Balanced tests have replaced California’s statewide exams as the state is transitioning to the Common Core State Standards. LA Unified conducted a dry-run of the tests last spring, but the results were not made public. However, many schools reported technical difficulties; Students were unable to log onto the testing site, connections to the internet were spotty, and many students were booted out of the system, unable to complete the test.

Cynthia Lim, executive director of the department that oversees the deployment of devices for the Smarter Balanced test and the infrastructure required to administer it, said the district has learned “many useful lessons” from last year’s experience and it will be prepared come spring.

She explained, “The connectivity issues we experienced were due to the fact they delivered the devices so close to the testing dates. They also took a lot of bandwidth that we didn’t have.” Now, she says, the district’s IT team knows what to expect.

In addition, later this month Lim and Superintendent Ramon Cortines plans to ask the Bond Oversight Committee, a panel that advises the district on spending taxpayer bond dollars, for money to buy thousands more testing devices.

Lim said she expects that students will receive all testing devices by January “so that schools will have plenty of time to practice.” And the IT department plans to conduct stress tests, ensuring that thousands of users can be on the district’s wireless network simultaneously.

But nothing of a technological nature is sure and easy in LA Unified — consider iPads and MiSiS — and that’s what worries Judith Perez, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

“There are a lot of issues related to technology in the district right now, and I would hate to penalize students and teachers for problems that are beyond their control,” she told LA School Report, referring to the myriad snafu’s caused by the student data management system, MiSiS.

MiSiS was supposed to simplify tracking data such as enrollment, attendance, grades and discipline issues, and help administrators stay on top of students’ specialized needs. Instead, it made a mess of the first few weeks of school, causing delays in assigning students to the correct classrooms, disrupting the tracking of attendance and grades and crashing at times too many users were on the network.

“This has shown us that the systems in schools are not in a good place” for a computerized test, Perez said. “Many schools simply do not have the bandwith, the practice time or the training for this test, and if we really want the testing process to be meaningful then I think we should wait another year.”

That was Zimmer’s view, as well. While on a visit to Taft High School today, he said, “I wanted to talk about instruction, and all they could talk about was MiSiS. MiSiS impacts everything.”

But beyond the technical difficulties involved in giving an eight hour test to all of the district 3rd the 8th grade students, as well as, all 11th graders, Zimmer warns that the results of the Smarter Balanced test should be viewed as “one part of a multi-faceted picture of school performance.”

“The whole point of the Smarter Balanced and the Common Core is that it is not the continuation of the [old statewide exams],” he said. “We’ve got to have the courage to not enter a new round of high stakes testing.”

In any case, LA Unified doesn’t have the autonomy to decide if it should or shouldn’t count this year’s test scores. That authority resides at the state level, in which case the State Board of Education needs a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education granting an exemption from submitting student assessment scores as it did this year.

EdSource reported that the State Board may take up the issue at the board’s next meeting, in January or March.

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