California schools prep for 'more in-depth' testing standards

California schools prep for 'more in-depth' testing standards

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Just as California schools get report cards on current students' state test scores, districts are getting ready to launch the next chapter in education. By the 2014 school year, districts will switch over to Common Core State Standards. It spells big changes, and supporters say it'll provide big benefits.

"There are less standards, but they go more in-depth," Kathy Hill said to briefly summarize the major change. Hill is the director of curriculum, instruction and accountability at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.

She said some local districts are using the Common Core programs already, others are waiting, but "most" are doing parts of it. The new standards were adopted in 2010 in California, and a total of 45 states are participating.

It's a new direction for schools.

"Most of the children that are in school today, we're preparing them for jobs that we don't even know what they're going to do," Hill told Eyewitness News on Thursday. "We have to prepare students differently than we have in the past."

For English courses, that means big changes.

"More attention is focused on informational texts, and not just literature," Hill explained.

And expect a big shift in math classes.

"Instead of teaching kids to memorize math facts, they're expected to have more actual number sense," Hill said. "To know how numbers are composed and decomposed, how they're put together and taken apart."

A spokesman for the Kern High School District told Eyewitness News that Common Core is a big deal. Educators are saying they'll have to do a lot of work to implement the system, but the benefit to students will be worth it.

A Bakersfield City School District spokesman said their superintendent believes the new program is extremely important, and they want the public to to understand it.

Moving to Common Core means schools need new text books and other materials, and teachers need training in the programs. Hill said the latest state budget includes $1.25 billion in one-time funding for Common Core expenses.

The new program also means a whole new way of testing its results. The new state test will be called Smarter Balanced, and kids will take them on computers - no more pencils and bubbles to fill in.

Hill said the new test will be different in a number of ways.

"It's guaranteed to be no more than 50 percent of multiple-choice-type questions," she said, adding that more questions will require written responses and even ask kids to draw something as part of an answer.

Questions will be more cutting edge.

"As the student takes the test, the computer adapts to their answers," Hill explained. "If they're getting them right, they go to harder, more rigorous questions. If they're missing them, they go down a different pathway."

Could the new approach have unintended consequences?

"There may be some things we haven't anticipated," Hill said. But, she noted some other states are already further along in the transition to the new system.

With the current Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) assessments, state education officials announced on Thursday that results had slipped by a "fraction of a percentage point this year." Hill said local schools saw similar trends, and no major changes from STAR test results from the previous year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson chalked up those results to recent education budget cuts and starting the transition to Common Core.

"As valuable as STAR has been, we're getting ready to raise the bar in California's schools," Torlakson said in a statement. "This coming year, many students will have their first chance to try tests that measure their preparation for college and the world of work."

From the Kern Superintendent of Schools office, Hill said the Common Core tests will be required in the 2014-15 school year, but field tests will be done in spring 2014.

She's excited about the new program, believing it will do a better job of teaching kids to be good thinkers.

"We're hoping to narrow (the curriculum) and give them a deeper sense of concepts and ideas," Hill said. "I think this new system is going to allow us to go more in-depth with students and really create some problem solvers, which is what we need."