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Branford is Common Core-Ready

By Pam Johnson

Publication: Shore Publishing

Published March 05. 2014 4:00AM
Branford is Common Core-Ready

Branford Public Schools students in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11 will participate in Common Core State Standards-based Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) field testing beginning Tuesday, March 18.

The district joins others across the state and a total of three million students nationwide in test-running the new, computer-based learning assessments. North Branford will conduct SBA field testing beginning April 6 (see "North Branford Prepped for SBA Field Testing" on page 8).

No student, school or district scores will be produced by the field testing. Instead, the assessments will help finalize formal SBA tests given statewide in the future, beginning with the spring of 2015.

While students in future years will benefit from this spring's field testing, some current Branford High School (BHS) junior class parents don't want their students involved, saying it takes away valuable study time for critical, college-sensitive AP, ACT, and SAT tests.

"I'm a little concerned with this process taking place with our 11th grade students who are not going to benefit one iota from it," said parent Dawn Massey, Ph.D., during public comments at the Feb. 26 Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, during an SBA field test presentation given by Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Peraro and Curriculum Director Ashley Dubin, Peraro said she was aware of the parents' concerns, but noted there's no "opt out" option for Connecticut 11th graders.

While some member states of the SBA Consortium of New England states will give the 11th-grade SBA field test to 9th and 10th graders, the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE), which oversees the district's SBA field testing, decided not to go with that option and instead field test 11th graders, Peraro explained.

As for all of the grades that will be taking the SBA field tests, Peraro said Branford students and educators are ahead of the Common Core curve and ready to participate.

"We've been working on Common Core standards and developing our curriculum based on the Common Core for over three years," said Peraro, adding, "We're excited to see the changes happening in the classrooms. Whether you go into 2nd grade, 5th grade or 11th grade, students are really getting excited about their learning. The difference I see with Common Core is that we're not teaching to the test; we're teaching them the skills so they can use their problem solving that will test their skills in a national test."

Beginning in 2015, SBA testing will replace SDE's Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). This spring, in addition to SBA field testing, Branford students in grades 5 and 7 are required to take CMT paper-and-pencil science tests. Students in grade 10 are required to take the CAPT science test.

SBA field testing will use the assessment's new computer-based testing to gather students' multiple choice and constructed responses in two areas, Math and English Language Arts. A Performance Test field testing component will be given following a classroom performance task activity in which teachers will give students a global view of an issue, using multiple sources of information. The test then asks the student to write an essay, citing from the sources they've been provided.

While SBAs are untimed tests, Peraro said each subject area will take some 3 ½ hours to complete, administered over multiple sessions of about 45 minutes. Over the weeks of the testing period, which runs through June 6, students will complete about seven hours of testing. At Walsh Intermediate School, where all grades will participate, testing will take place one grade at a time over an extended period of time.

"We're trying to keep a regular, learning-focused day, where testing occurs no more than one period a day," said Peraro.

With its computer-based testing ability, SBA uses "degree of difficulty" scoring analytics, responding live to a student's level of ability and adjusting the test's degree of difficulty accordingly. Tests will be graded using scale of 0 to 4. On Feb. 26, finding about more about the "degree of difficulty" aspect was a question for Peraro from BOE student representatives (and BHS students) Elena Perito and Michael Caminear.

As Peraro explained, if, on one SBA question, "you do really well, the next question's going to be a little harder; and maybe you don't do that well on that particular question. The next question you get is going to be a little easier. But as they score it, they will take into consideration the level of the question, and assess what your skill level is at."

Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez further explained, "Essentially, it's going to weight the level of difficulty," adding, "If you don't progress very much in the task, getting not a lot of right of answers or getting the same level of difficulty, you're not going to get a four."

Peraro said the point is that the district will be able use SBA test results to make students more successful in the learning process and be college- and career-ready.

As Dubin noted, the SBA's computer-based testing will also support students like never before, from allowing screen viewing contrast options to providing text-to-speech and speech-to-text, access to dictionaries and glossaries (including Spanish language), zooming capability, split screen or large screen viewing, and more.

"It's really trying to give the students a totally equal fair opportunity," said Dubin. "It's really a system that is saying, 'We understand students learn in many different ways, and we're not going to let a testing system stop you from demonstrating what you know.'"

Connecticut is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core State Standards. The change-over from CMT/CAPT, and rationale for the upcoming SBA field testing, was explained to parents in a January letter issued by Superintendent Hernandez. The district has also been offering public information sessions concerning the upcoming SBA field testing. To view the complete presentation, as well as several other Common Core/SBA notices and publications issued by the district, visit www.branfordschools.org.

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