Students to take practice test with Common Core principles

Parents, students and teachers have been hearing Common Core State Standards are coming, but the near-nationwide change to curriculum and standardized testing already is impacting Lake Oswego School District.

Common Core is a multi-state-led initiative that includes formal testing starting in the 2014-15 school year. Local teachers already are training and adapting curriculum for the incoming standardized test, which will have a different approach than the current one, possibly affecting student test performance. There also will be a practice test in the school district this fall with some students taking a portion of the new standardized test. Scores will not be official.

“We wanted to try it out and see how it works for us, and our district is working to stay on top of things and give us the support we need to move to the next step to be able to implement” Common Core, Lake Oswego High School Principal Cindy Schubert said.Cindy Schubert

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium standardized testing in English/language arts and math begins in spring 2015. The tests are based on the Common Core standards. SBAC will replace Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, although OAKS remains in place this school year.

“It’s important to remember that we’re still being tested under the OAKS state testing standards,” school district Director of Secondary Education Donna Atherton said.

Several students will be taking an informal run at portions of the SBAC test in October, including fourth-graders in math and fifth-graders in English/language arts. Half of eighth-graders and half of 10th-graders will take math, and the other halves of each grade level will do English/language arts.

Locally, curriculum has been evolving and teachers have been training for more than two years.

“Once the standards were approved by Oregon Board of Education, we as a district started working on changes we could make as a district to meet those newer standards,” Atherton said.

Lakeridge High School Assistant Principal Rollin Dickinson said English teachers from both high schools have met several times to train and discuss Common Core.

“This year, I think everyone will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards, at least in the English department,” said Dickinson, who was the Lakeridge English department chairman.Rollin Dickinson

Math teachers also have been undergoing Common Core training, Atherton said.

The district’s public outreach effort on Common Core is in the works and will take place during the next couple of years.

“We’ll talk about what the expectations are, and we’ll be talking about what we’ll need to be doing to prepare for those expectations,” Atherton said.

Common Core standards are for all grades, but SBAC testing doesn’t start until third grade for Common Core.

Common Core standards will have a greater focus on literacy in all subjects and a focus more on informational, nonfiction text, Atherton said.

“It doesn’t mean you abandon literature,” she said. “We’re certainly not going to do that. However, you can infuse informational text into the work you’re doing with a piece of literature.”

She said students would read nonfiction text on the history of a period novel, for example.

SBAC incorporates more writing than OAKS, such as calling for a short, written answer to a math question. SBAC also will require more interaction with what’s on the computer. Test takers would draw a right triangle instead of selecting one from a list of choices, for example.

Students would take the SBAC in one sitting but now can take 45 days to finish OAKS in several sittings.

OAKS is administered to third- to eighth-graders and 11th graders. Eleventh-graders can take the test three times, and the test can be used to meet graduation requirements. Students in grades third to eighth can take OAKS twice if they don’t pass.

Students in grades third to 12th would take SBAC once per year.

However, how SBAC is administered, what will be on it and how it will be graded could change because it remains under development, said Linda Brown, Teachers Standards and Practices Commission member and former school board member.

Some are concerned that there is insufficient funding for training and curriculum.

Lake Oswego School District is enveloping the Common Core training into standard professional development, and it has been holding off on the usual textbook adoption cycle, awaiting Common Core related materials, Atherton said. If approved, the materials could be introduced in the 2014-15 school year.

Another potential issue is standardized testing scores may drop. Kentucky offered assessments for reading and math aligned with Common Core standards in 2012, and the number of students who were proficient in reading and math dropped by about one-third in elementary and middle school in the state’s first year, according to Education Week.

Brown said the same could happen here because it’s like switching a team from softball to baseball, similar games with different rules.

“Things will get better because after a couple years, Common Core will be what everyone is familiar with,” Brown said.

The District of Columbia, 45 states and four U.S. territories agreed to use Common Core to institute consistent academic standards nationwide, spelling out what kindergarten to 12th-graders should understand and be able to do in math and reading.

Another goal is to improve academic performance and ready students for college and the workforce upon graduation.

States will test students with SBAC or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, which is similar to SBAC but does not include computer adaptive technology. It “adjusts to a student’s ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers,” the SBAC website states.

Experts in the fields of math and English/language arts, including teachers, helped shape the Common Core standards.Donna Atherton

The Oregon Board of Education adopted the math and English/language arts standards in late 2010. The board’s implementation of science standards is on a different timeline, Atherton said.

Schubert, the LOHS principal, said the new standards will transform the way “teachers teach and students learn.”

“We think by implementing this, it will better help our students prepare for life after high school,” she said.

Learn more

Common Core standards have not been adopted in Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Texas and Virginia.

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