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California set to replace its standardized tests
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013 08:31 AM

For educators in many states, the years ahead will be transitional ones as these instructors work to better prepare their students for success in an increasingly competitive world. This is true of California, a state that is currently implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and preparing to transition from the California Standards Tests (CST) to new, CCSS-aligned assessments.

This move will mark a significant shift in the way Californian students' academic skills are measured, as pupils in grades two through eleven have had to take the CST, a part of the California STAR Testing Program, for more than a decade. While it will surely take time for educators, parents and their children to adjust to the Smarter Balanced assessments, the CCSS-aligned tests are on their way.

Reasons for the change
When California adopted the CCSS August 2, 2010, it did so to provide K-12 students with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive during their collegiate and professional careers. However, the introduction of the Common Core means that students are being tested using assessments designed before the Standards were even created. Once the CCSS are fully implemented, teachers will need to know how much information pupils are retaining, and the Smarter Balanced assessments can do that.

"This is going to change the way children are taught," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of the changes brought on by the CCSS, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times in 2010. "[And] most importantly, the way we support teachers."

According to Duncan, the introduction of the new assessments may also stop educators from teaching to the CST, which is something Duncan has heard many instructors complain about.

What students can expect from the new assessments
For Californian teachers and students, one aspect of the new testing process that may take some getting used to is the fact that the exams will be administered on a computer, according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. As a result, pupils can expect to develop their technology skills every time they sit down to take the assessments.

When students begin to take the computer-based tests in the 2014-2015 academic year, they will encounter questions that call on them to display their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition to multiple-choice questions, test takers will tackle performance tasks based on real-world problems. The assessments' computer-based format allows them to feature technology enhanced items, which is something a paper bubble test cannot provide.

A sneak peek at the assessments
As many parents and students may be curious or on edge about the new assessments, the California Department of Education has provided an early look at them. By clicking a link on the Department's website, individuals will be redirected to the Smarter Balanced Practice Tests to see what students will take during the 2014-2015 academic year.

"These practice tests give teachers, students and parents a glimpse into understanding the skills and abilities our children will need to do well on test day and in preparation for college and career," said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, in a press release. "This marks another step forward in the effort to help schools prepare to replace outdated assessments with tests that gauge the kind of critical thinking and deeper learning that comes with a world-class education."

Students who devote some time to familiarizing themselves with the Practice Tests can only benefit. Across the nation, more than 19 million K-12 students will take the Smarter Balanced assessments before the 2014-2015 academic year concludes. The more they know now, the less of a shock the transition from the CST to the new exams will be.




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