Adults Learn First, Then Help Students

Parents sitting in a school gym listening to a presentation.

Dublin Unified School District (California) hosts a Common Core parent workshop.

District staff recognized the need for parents and educators to learn about the Smarter Balanced Assessment System first so that these adults could help their students. District staff asked parents and educators what they wanted to learn about the assessment system, and they designed training sessions to address these topics, such as having parents analyze student test questions, helping teachers learn to score extended responses, and allowing teachers to explore accessibility and accommodations resources to find out which supports were the best fit for their students.

The examples below describe the results of these efforts.

During the first year of Smarter Balanced administration, staff from Vancouver Public Schools, Washington attended parent/teacher nights and conducted practice tests with parents. This process helped parents better understand the testing experience—“like a light bulb went off!” They enjoyed analyzing questions and finding evidence to support the answer. It was a good experience that helped parents lower their anxiety about the new assessments.
Emily Rosenberger and Theresa (Tere) Hernandez, two teacher leaders from Washington, attended summer workshops to learn about the construction of test items. They returned to share with their colleagues an understanding of item stems and rubrics using critical information in the item specifications available on the Smarter Balanced website. They addressed achievement gaps in writing by helping students understand the question stems and practice writing full answers with key elements. At the middle school level in Deer Park School District, Emily used the acronym RICE (restate, interest, cite, explain) to help students remember the components for any short answer. In high school, Tere used a similar approach called REAL (restate and answer [make a claim], evidence, analysis, and link) to help students in Toppenish School District improve their writing of short answers and full essays. Both teachers noted significant improvement in writing for their students on the 2016 assessment and continue to use these writing systems in their class work.
Marchand Connolly, K–6 Math Instructional Facilitator, Tumwater School District, Washington, uses the Digital Library mainly as a support for intervention. She finds supporting materials for students who have attained the standard and need enrichment or for students who need more help to meet the standard. People started using the Digital Library more frequently last year after a step-by-step training. Another key resource for math teachers is Number Talks—recorded webinars and PowerPoint presentations supported by the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. School-wide Number Talks help students build thinking skills and make mathematical connections.
In San Diego Unified School District, California, over 500 survey respondents—including site coordinators, principals, and teachers—said they needed more in-depth training on Smarter Balanced accessibility resources. The district staff believed teachers knew the students best and would be able to match up the accessibility and accommodations supports to fit the students, if they knew what was available.

San Diego Assessment Services staff created an in-person training that focused on accessibility resources, identifying supports, and entering test setting into the Test Operations Management System. Site coordinators, principals, special education staff, English learner coordinators, and English learner support teachers were encouraged to attend. In addition, they created videos of students using each support that sites could use with teachers so they would become familiar with the various accessibility resources. The Special Education Department created a separate training that was offered for special education staff that focused on the IEP and the new accommodations and other accessibility resources available for special education students. More in-depth information is available on the California Department of Education website, CAASPP in Action.

Sheila Osko, Test Coordinator, Norwich Public Schools, Connecticut, discovered that teachers of special needs students did not know what some of the accommodations tools and supports really were. For example, teachers had questions about reading in braille, such as, “What is the difference between contracted and non-contracted braille?” Sheila offered training on accommodations so that teachers could choose the appropriate supports for students, and she provided notes describing the changes to the accommodations (DOCX) for the current school year. If students don’t use the same supports in the classroom, they are hindered when it comes time to take the test. Sheila noticed a change after the training in the appropriate use of designated supports in classrooms.
Anaheim City School District, California, started using Smarter Balanced interim assessments in 2015–16 to replace the district’s local common assessments that lacked curriculum alignment, rigor, and accessibility and accommodations resources. In spring 2015, two schools piloted IABs and Interim Comprehensive Assessments (ICAs). Based on the pilot, the district adopted three IABs in ELA and three IABs in math district-wide in 2015–16 with the following support for implementation:

Summer 2015

  • IAB training of trainers was presented to site administrators, curriculum coaches, and digital learning coaches.
  • IAB training was delivered by coaches back at sites.

Fall 2015

  • Follow-up training was provided for curriculum coaches on hand-scoring and analysis of results to be used with grade-level PLCs back at sites.

Impact on Instruction

After exploring the IABs and scoring students’ written responses, many teachers realized that they needed to shift their instruction to better align with the rigor of the CCSS. The depth of understanding that teachers were expecting wasn’t reflected in the student responses. This was particularly evident among the high-performing students.

The district continues to use IABs in 2016–17 and provides additional professional learning on the purpose of assessments, the use of performance tasks, and the use of formative assessment for teaching and learning. In the future, district assessments will incorporate brief writing and performance task IABs. More in-depth information is available on the California Department of Education website CAASPP in Action.