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Tahoma School District moving to new tests, Common Core State Standards

The Tahoma School District is transitioning to the new Common Core standards this year, including introducing the SMARTER Balanced tests.

Dawn Wakeley, assistant superintendent for Tahoma, said that the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction gave the district the option to begin implementing the new standards and new tests this year as part of the field testing phase of implementation and that after much discussion the district decided to go that route.

Wakeley explained that this year the district’s students in grades three through eight will take the SMARTER Balanced tests but that 10th grade students will still take the High School Proficiency Exams to fulfill the graduation requirement of passing those tests.

“The experience is going to be great for our schools and our teachers,” Wakeley said.

Previously students in grades three through eight took the Measurements of Student Progress exams and high school students took the High School Proficiency Exams.

The Common Core standards for English language arts and math were adopted by Washington state in July of 2011 with the goal of having them fully implemented during the 2014-15 school year. They have been adopted by 45 states andWashington D.C., as well as four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity.

According to a website about the Common Core, corestandards.org, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.”

The OSPI website also outlines advantages to the new standards which include creating consistent expectations, clear standards and learning over memorization, emphasizing critical topics, and a better, online testing system.

“The whole reason they’ve made the changes in the standards is to be college and career ready,” Wakeley said. “It’s all about kid learning.”

For English language arts Wakeley said that the new standards include a stronger emphasis on nonfiction, on constructing logical arguments, and students being able to support those arguments with strong evidence. She explained that new curriculum will meld teaching reading and writing, where historically the two had been approached and taught separately.

Wakeley said that Tahoma students excel at reading and writing performance tasks.

“I think overall teachers are finding that students’ performance on those is pretty good,” Wakeley said. “Our students are doing some pretty sophisticated work.”

She added that the quantity of informational texts over literary texts will be a change students and staff have to adjust to.

In addition, instead of strictly right and wrong answers, students will be asked to select a best or most correct answer, analyzing the level of right and wrong in the answer choices.

“In the world in general there’s lots of shades of grey,” Wakeley said. “In the new assessments there’s answers with multiple levels of rightness. That’s a big shift in our curriculum.”

As for the math standards, Wakeley said the focus is on depth of knowledge as opposed to breadth of knowledge.

“They’re not quite as broad,” Wakeley said of the new standards.

That means a smaller number of topics will be covered each year but students will be expected to have a higher level of understanding and mastery of the topics covered.

The district has been focusing on curriculum revisions and professional development to prepare for the new standards. Information about the new standards and assessments went out to parents this fall during conferences.

Wakeley said that overall the new standards are more rigorous and that the district’s emphasis on thinking skills should serve students well as they approach the new tests and that the district still has farther to go.

 

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