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9-1-15 State Board Meeting, Assessments Review, Testing

NJ Spotlight - Agenda: Start of New School Year Brings Familiar Topics…Newark schools and review of state standards back before state board, as well as more routine matters

John Mooney | September 1, 2015

What they are doing: The State Board of Education’s first meeting of the new school year will hear further presentations on two ongoing sagas in the state: the status of the Newark public schools and the review of New Jersey’s state standards to replace the Common Core. The board will also mark the tenure of outgoing member Claire Chamberlain, as well as take up several code revisions on student support and budget accountability.

Related Links

State BOE Agenda for September 2

Newark update: The board will get another update on the latest chapter in the operation of the state-controlled Newark schools. The new superintendent, former State Commissioner Chris Cerf, may come before the board, although with the start of school this week, officials said he also may make a written presentation. Key topics will be progress in the opening of schools, as well as developments in the state’s monitoring of the district and the promised transition to local control.

State standards: The board has also requested monthly updates on the administration’s review of standards to replace the Common Core State Standards, eschewed by Gov. Chris Christie this summer in his quest for the White House. Assistant commissioner Kimberley Harrington will make the presentation, including the state’s new website and online surveys to gather public input on the standards.

Chamberlain exit: Chamberlain was named to the board in 2011 in a wave of new appointments by Christie that tilted the balance of power of the board. The shift didn’t deliver the drama that some folks expected, but nonetheless, she helped cement some key Christie initiatives, including Cerf’s appointment in Newark. That was among her last acts, and her departure now leaves the board three members short of its full complement.

Routine code: The board will also mark the final adoption of two new pieces of code for student support services and fiscal accountability. Both are key regulations, but these revisions are largely routine to meet new state statute and federal law, officials said.

Special services expansion: The board will also act on resolutions to allow another special services district to serve students outside of its assigned county. The board already approved such measures for Middlesex and Passaic this summer, and Camden County’s education services district is the next up.

Public comment: The board’s meeting will also hold a rare public comment period in the afternoon on any topics people want to talk about.


Brattleboro Vt. Reformer - Another view: Taking the test

By Scot Giles

Posted:   08/28/2015 06:25:39 PM EDT0 Comments

Updated:   08/28/2015 06:25:39 PM EDT

Nobody likes to take tests, myself included.

So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I accepted to Secretary Holcombe's invitation to take the new Smarter Balanced Assessments in April. My anxiety increased when I entered Montpelier High to discover we would be taking the 11th grade math assessments. Three of us had accepted the challenge and each suppressed visions of impending public humiliation like that reserved for adult contestants on "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?"

So why did we agree to do this?

Vermont, like many states, is raising its educational standards to ensure that our children have the knowledge and skills to be active citizens and compete in the 21st century global economy. Our goal is to ensure that every child graduates from high school with the tools they need to successfully pursue education, training and career.

This year we introduced new assessments aligned to these standards. The SBACs, as they are called, use

computer-based adaptive testing to assess proficiency in Common Core standards for English/language arts and mathematics. Many people have opinions about the value and quality of testing — but few actually take the assessments themselves. I wanted the opportunity to learn firsthand what we are asking of Vermont students.

Let me start by saying the SBAC isn't the multiple-choice, bubble test from my high school days. The computer adaptive testing "personalizes" the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment, based on student responses. When I answered a question correctly, my next question was harder. If I was wrong, my next question was easier. Each student will be challenged to the top of their ability and no students will receive the exact same test.

There was also an interactive assessment led by a teacher that was fun, relevant to the interests of students, and required the application of all the same concepts, reasoning and problem-solving skills measured by the earlier assessment.

This test is hard. I have multiple advanced degrees and left sure that I had not performed well (I was pleasantly surprised by my score — and tried unsuccessfully to get cred with my kids). That said, I recognized every question as something that I once knew and as something that was important that our students be able to reason through and apply.

This is a significant and important change. Students and teachers will have more accurate and realistic measurements of knowledge levels and student progress. The results will help refine curriculum and teaching, where and when needed. Students will have a snapshot of what they have achieved and know where they need to focus their efforts. Importantly, it will give us a window into a whole range of equity issues.

No test is perfect but I think this is a move in the right direction. Vermont's first test results — which will be sent by local schools to parents soon — will probably require a re-tooling of our collective perspective as educators, parents and students about what it means to be proficient. The scores are different and they may alarm some who will view them as proof that Vermont's K-12 system isn't working or that the test is too difficult.

I disagree.

VSAC's own research has shown repeatedly that students who are more academically prepared are much more likely to go on to for more education — regardless of family income or parents' educational levels.

We have raised our expectations to ensure that all students develop the knowledge and problem-solving skills they need to succeed. These scores will likely show us that we must work to achieve these higher standards. The real test will be how we use what we learn.

Scott Giles is president and CEO of Vermont Student Assistance Corp. and chairman of the Vermont PreK-16 Council.


Brattleboro Vt. Reformer - State releases SBAC results First year of new assessments


By Howard Weiss-Tisman

hwtisman@reformer.com @HowardReformer on Twitter

Posted:   08/24/2015 09:54:08 PM EDT0 Comments

Updated:   08/24/2015 09:54:08 PM EDT

BRATTLEBORO - State and local education officials who looked at the results for the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced Assessment say there were lessons learned beyond only how Vermont students did on the tests.

Students in grades 3 through 8, and in grade 11, took the tests in the spring and the state released the results Monday.

This was the first time Vermont students took the new computer adaptive test, which replaced the New England Common Assessment Program.

And while the state is not going to use the results to determine adequate yearly progress because it was only the first year of giving the new test, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Curriculum Coordinator Paul Smith said teachers and administrators learned a lot about using the new technology in the classroom.

"For something as ambitious as testing every kid in grades 3 through 8, and in grade 11 on new technology I think it went exceedingly well," Smith said. "There were some glitches, and some issues we will have to work out, but everyone came away understanding the system and there are a lot of exciting pieces that we are going to be able to use in the classroom."

The Smarter Balanced Assessment was given in 18 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and in the Department of Defense Education Activity Office in the spring.

The test is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, a new set of education standards adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.

The State Board of Education voted in March not to use the results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year since schools had to learn how to administer the tests, which are all given online on computers and tablets.

"Until students' education has been guided by the new standards and schools have practiced administering and interpreting SBAC, the results will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance and should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose," State School Board Chairman Stephan Morse wrote in a memo following the board's unanimous vote.

The assessment is a computer adaptive test which adjusts the difficulty of the test items based on how a test taker responds.

If a student answers incorrectly, he or she gets a slightly easier item. If she answers correctly, she gets a slightly harder item. This means very few children take a test that feels too hard or too easy. It also means the test can provide a more precise measure of what students can and cannot do.

"It took a lot of pressure off in the long run. We knew we had this window and we were able to relax a little and see how the kids did taking this test," Smith said. "I'm glad we were given this grace period. It gives us time to fix any mistakes we might come across."

In releasing the assessment results Monday Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe cautioned the public from comparing results to past years' assessments.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a harder test than the New England Common Assessment Program, and the 2014-15 results generally show fewer Vermont students performing at or above proficiency compared to the NECAPs.

Statewide only 40 percent of the eighth grade students who took the tests were proficient or above in math while 54 percent were proficient or above in English language arts.

"These results give us a means to evaluate the size and direction of our achievement gaps, as well as the mastery of individual students on specific content," said Holcombe. "At the state level, we will look closely at scores to assess challenges related to equity and set goals. At the local level, educators will use individual scores, along with other locally collected data, to assess students' needs and plan instruction. For parents, the tests can help them ask good questions when they meet with teachers, and provide one benchmark for monitoring their student's progress and success."

At the same time, State Assessment Director Michael Hock said, more students scored as proficient than were projected from field tests given in spring 2014 to students from 21 states.

With the State Board voting not to use the Smarter Balanced Assessment results this year the Agency of Education will be working to come up with an alternate way to determine how schools are doing.

Congress has yet to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law and under the existing law every Vermont school has been identified as failing to meet the requirement of the law for not having 100 percent of its students at or above grade level.

Hock said the state will be engaging in a dialogue throughout the year with the U.S. Department of Education to come up with a way of grading schools without being over reliant on standardized tests.

"We don't believe every school is failing. We know there are schools that are doing well and what is broken is the federal law," Hock said. "We will use the time this year to learn how to make the best use of the test scores and make decisions about accountability."

For more information on the test results and to see detailed school and district reports go to


Howard Weiss-Tisman can be contacted at 802-254-2311 ext.279.


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