CA readies new student report cards on Common Core testing

CA readies new student report cards on Common Core testing

(Calif.) Sometime in the coming weeks, millions of California families will begin receiving report cards in the mail aimed at describing how their children did this spring on new statewide testing tied to the Common Core.

Unlike any communication of student performance before, these reports are intended to reflect a much more robust explanation of student performance by using bands of scoring to explain whether a child has met an achievement standard or fallen short.

While the approach has attracted some praise nationally, the new report cards do not indicate specifically if a student has met a ‘proficient’ level of achievement – a longstanding requirement of federal law.

State officials – almost five years into a transition to the Common Core State Standards and at least a year, perhaps two, from finalizing a new, comprehensive school accountability system – say they are moving forward with the new student report cards despite potential conflicts with the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We’re not communicating proficiency,” Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education said in an interview this week. “That’s a federal word that they use and we’re not. It’s just not part of the thinking here.”

Since adopting the Common Core standards in English and math in 2010, the state board and Gov. Jerry Brown have had to undertake expensive and complex revisions of content delivery in schools, including adopting new classroom instructional materials, developing new training programs for teachers and creating a new assessment system.

Now, there is a new report card for the computer-based testing that students in grades three through eight and 11 have been taking this spring.

In advance of the new report cards, the state board of education and the California Department of Education are set to unleash a communication campaign to explain the new system.

The CDE has already set aside time this Thursday for a web-based press briefing to begin explaining the new report cards and their scoring to the mainstream media.

Among the key points is that students will receive an overall score for each subject tested on a scale from 2,000 to 3,000. The scores will far within one of four performance levels: standard not met; standard nearly met; standard met; standard exceeded.

A deeper dive in the English language arts results will give parents an understanding of how their child performed in reading, writing, listening and research. Reports on math include information about a student’s ability to problem solve and communicate mathematical reasoning.

The scoring bands come from agreements made in October among leadership of the Smarter Balanced consortium, which developed the new Common Core assessments. The “cut scores” were based on last spring’s field testing and provided recommendations for where states should set student achievement levels.

An important part of the communication message coming from the state to parents this summer is that scoring from the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, should not be compared to scores from the prior assessment system, the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or STAR. The content is so fundamentally different that there is no way to compare old to new.

While the new report cards have already received some applause as being more informative of student performance compared to the STAR system, there are potential problems related to federal regulators.

California is one of the few states not operating under a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act – including requirements that the state set proficiency marks and report how many students did and didn’t pass.

A letter to the states issued by the U.S. Department of Education in February authorized any state “administering new college-and career-ready-aligned assessments in the 2014-2015 school year to not assign schools new ratings based on those assessments.” But the guidance did not state, how, absent a formal waiver, this essential component of NCLB could be dismissed.

Although that language would suggest states like California are getting a pass on ‘proficiency’ reporting, the letter went on to say that states would “still be required to publicly report the results of the assessments, including against AMOs (annual measurable objectives).”

Thus, it is unclear how California can avoid publicizing proficiency results that are benchmarks for AMOs without being considered in violation of federal law.

A spokesperson for U.S. Department of Education declined to specifically address the new California system except to say that states must have academic achievement standards that include a proficient and advanced level but can express those terms in words of their own choosing.

California has several work-around options pending before federal regulators and there’s an assumption that because Duncan acquiesced on a related testing issue a year ago, that he will again.

The new report cards are just one part of a multi-level restructuring the state is undertaking of performance evaluation of its students, schools and districts.

Such efforts in other states have not only been approved by the U.S. Department of Education – they have been encouraged given the almost universal frustration educators and policymakers have with the rigid performance targets that characterize NCLB.

But California has not been granted a waiver and other options for legalizing the new system remain unresolved.

Kirst said the new report cards represent a new way of thinking about student performance.

“It’s an entirely new paradigm,” he explained. “You need to just junk everything you had in your head and throw that in the trash can somewhere and start over.” more