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JUST IN: LAUSD says new test scores lower but ‘kids not getting dumber’

Mike Szymanski | August 20, 2015

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common-core-standards-After reviewing preliminary results of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, LA Unified officials say the test scores are lower than what parents typically see but want them to know “it does not mean our kids are getting dumber.”

Cynthia Lim, Executive Director of the Office of Data and Accountability, told the LA School Report today that parents should not worry when the see the results fro last year because the new tests are not comparable to previous statewide measures in how they are structured and how they are given — by computer.

Her explanation was part of a district strategy to ease anxieties among parents who may be fearful that the new tests leave the impression that their children are regressing in their academic pursuits. That is not the case, Lim said. It has always been clear to school administrators here and elsewhere that a new form of testing, based on the Common Core State Standards, would drive down test results in the early years.

“We are expecting that scores will be lower than what we’ve seen in the past in terms of what we would say is proficiency, because the tests are really different than what we’ve had for the last 10 years,” Lim said.

Not only are the new tests different in how they pose questions, the new scoring system is tougher, but Lim said the test material isn’t necessarily more difficult for students or any more advanced.

“It is a different way of teaching; the material is not harder, we are assessing deeper levels of thinking among students,” she explained. Rather than multiple choice questions or basic recall questions, the students are asked to explain how they got to an answer.

Lim sent a letter to the school board and Superintendent Ramon Cortines last week, warning against comparisons between the old test scores and the new ones. She noted: “The percentage of students who will have ‘met or exceeded standards’ on the new tests will be lower than the proficiency rates we have seen with the old California Standards Tests.”

Lim said, “There’s no way to compare the test scores. So even if you were advanced on (the California Standards Test) and this year you’re ‘Nearly Meeting Standards,’ it doesn’t mean that you’ve gotten dumber. We are assessing different skills. It’s new to teachers and new to students in terms of how we’re assessing. I think as people get more familiar, scores will most likely increase.”

The scores this year will not be used to determine if schools are “failing” nor will they be used for the evaluation of teachers, Lim said.

The district is not concerned with the lower scores for now. A decade ago when the tests were changed, they saw a similar drop in scores. This time, the tests are taken completely on computer tablets — some questions require listening, others include writing exercises. They are also subject to “computer adaptability,” which means an incorrect answer is followed by an easier question, a correct answer leads to a harder question.

District officials say they are especially concerned that parents may react negatively to a perception that their child is not scoring well on the new test. “We worked with our local district on our talking points because it does not mean our kids are getting dumber,” Lim said. “It means that we’re assessing them in a different way than we ever have before. It’s actually a more holistic view of students and how they learn.”

The actual scores by school, district, county and state will be released by the state and available to the public in mid-September. The state is a few weeks behind in releasing the scores, Lim said.

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