During May, University High School (UHS) will administer its first Smarter Balanced Assessment in the mathematics and language arts subject areas to students in grade 11. In place of the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (CST) in California, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) evaluates the implementation and progress of Common Core Programs statewide. According to the UHS Administration, the Smarter Balanced Assessment will also be used in approximately 21 states starting in the 2014-2015 school year. The Smarter Balanced Assessment, which includes a multiple-choice and a written assessment, will be administered online to juniors during their English classes. The test is voluntary as students will be given an option to opt-out with parental permission.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for changes within the curriculum, especially within the mathematics and English language arts subject areas. According to the CCSS pamphlet by the Orange County Department of Education, “CCSS will replace exclusively multiple-choice assessments with more project-oriented and critical-thinking assessments that require students to use the knowledge they have acquired to demonstrate their learning.” UHS staff members are currently learning about CCSS standards and teaching methods to implement the Common Core, in respect to their departments, through district-wide and on-campus meetings.
Amber Linehan (English Dept.) said, “The CCSS encourages the English teachers to incorporate more non-fiction texts into the curriculum and synthesize ideas between literary works and society. There is a feeling of freedom right now—freedom to be creative, freedom to abandon the idea of ‘teaching to a test,’ and that’s exciting.” During training, English teachers took the sample SBAC test available for the public online, but they do not know about the specifics of the language arts portion of SBAC. Ms. Therese Sorey (English Dept.) said, “I am very curious to see what the process will be like and what the kids will think about it. A big concern is that we do not know who is scoring these assessments and how they are doing so. I want to know how the board is determining the passing rates and what the scores mean.”
The UHS Mathematics Department is currently implementing changes to its curriculum in response to CCSS standards, which aim to increase student understanding of concepts over content-based learning. Ms. Kim Huber (Mathematics Dept.) said, “Basically, the standards used to be, ‘Can you solve an equation?’ Now it is, ‘Can you contextualize the equation to make it relevant to the real world?’” According to posters provided by the State Board of Education, the main standards of the new math curriculum include “attending to precision, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, making use of structure and modeling with mathematics.” On the Smarter Balanced Assessment, students will be asked to solve problems involving reasoning in context. Ms. Huber said, “Common Core may be challenging to implement because it is a really big jump at once. But the idea is to make students become better thinkers and have them establish deep understanding and application on the subject area.” Students around the country will be at varying academic levels, so a change to successfully make the educational curriculum equal for every school in the country or even state may not be an easy task.
In contrast to the CST Assessment, this year’s pilot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for juniors will not test science standards. Groups of administrators and teachers around the state are meeting to plan the new science standards, and the specific framework for science is yet to be worked out. Mr. Kevin Kasper (Science Dept.) said, “The direction for the Science Department is somewhat vague right now because the program is targeting English language arts and math first. The Common Core program is overwhelming for UHS’s science department as there will be many changes happening at the same time with a new curriculum.”CCSS features new standards, which require engineering and earth science applications. Readjustments in available science courses will be made to align with Common Core standards. Ms. Sachiko Galassetti (Science Dept.) said, “Lessons will be more meaningful for students since they can apply what they learned to their everyday lives. I also think it’s important that there is an increased focus on integration between humanities and science though it may be challenging for the students and teachers to smoothly transition between curricula at first and adjust.”
According to Orange County Department of Education, the Common Core “encourages and facilitates the integration of technology into the classroom.” UHS plans to allow students access to paid college-level online databases such as JSTOR and ABC-CLIO from home and school for more convenient research options and create multiple new computer labs throughout campus. UHS teachers will also revisit policies regarding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in their classrooms to decide when and whether electronics should be allowed for research during class time. Mr. Dominic Fratantaro (Staff) said, “The library should never be closed; however, due to a lack of space on campus, the library is forced to close for Advanced Placement (AP) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing. We understand the need for an improved tech infrastructure on campus, and I believe we are moving in the right direction to do just that.” Currently, Mr. Fratantaro is designinga new computer lab at UHS, which could enable students to collaborate more often and receive academic help in the lab. The Irvine Unified School District is in the process of passing a technology bond to improve the schools’ wireless system, allowing students to research on their own devices when necessary without having the rely on their cellular networks to connect to the internet.
Written by ANGELINE NG