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Standards and Assessment

Common Questions About Smarter Balanced Assessments

 Part of a Comprehensive Plan for Student Success

Knowing that public schools must change to prepare students for the challenges of the future, California has developed a comprehensive plan for high-quality teaching and learning in every school. We have a long way to go, but our work is well under way, with higher academic standards, more decision-making in the hands of schools and communities, and more resources dedicated to schools and to students with the greatest needs.

The system-wide changes we’ve begun are focused on helping students succeed in the long run, achieving their dreams of college and a career. We’re providing more training for teachers, more resources for teachers and students, and more access to technology in all classrooms.

Thanks to teachers, administrators and school staff, exciting changes are taking place inside our classrooms. Along with reading to follow a story, students are learning to read to cite evidence and draw logical conclusions. They are learning to use math to solve real-world problems rather than merely pick out the right multiple-choice answer.

California’s robust system of student assessments is one important component in understanding how our students are learning, what they know, and the supports they need to succeed.

 What are the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

  • The Smarter Balanced assessments are new computer based tests that measure student knowledge of California’s English language arts and mathematics standards. These new assessments replace the former paper-based, multiple-choice assessments for students in grades 3-8 and 11. The first statewide administration of these assessments will take place in spring 2015.

Why are new assessments needed in California?

  • California has adopted more rigorous academic standards that emphasize not only subject knowledge, but also the critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem-solving skills students need to be successful in college and career. These standards set a higher bar for California students to help ensure they are prepared to succeed in the future. Because what students need to know and be able to do has changed, our tests must change as well.
  • California’s new assessment system represents the next step in a comprehensive plan to promote high-quality teaching and learning and improve student outcomes. This plan recognizes that assessments can play an important role in promoting and modeling high-quality instruction.

How were these new assessments developed?

  • California worked with 21 other states as part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop these new assessments, as well as the professional and instructional resources provided to help students, teachers and schools throughout the year.
  • Educators – from K-12 to higher education – were deeply involved in the design, testing and scoring of these new assessments. California conducted both pilot and statewide field tests of Smarter Balanced assessments over the last two years.
  • Last year, California suspended its use of existing assessments in ELA and Math to give teachers time to focus on refining instruction of California’s more rigorous standards, to give students time to begin deeper learning, and to give schools time to prepare to administer these computer-based tests effectively.

How are Smarter Balanced Assessments an improvement over previous statewide tests?

  • The Smarter Balanced assessment system uses both computer-based and computer-adaptive tests, providing students with a wider range of questions tailored to more accurately identify the knowledge and skills individual students have mastered.
  • The tests include performance tasks that challenge students to demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving, and to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems.
  • The tests are taken online, and results are available to teachers, schools and school districts much more quickly than results from previous tests.
  • The new assessments are aligned with the skills students need to start taking courses for credit at California State University campuses and other colleges. Based on their results, students in 11th grade will have more information about the type of courses and level of rigor required in their final year of high school.
  • The new computer-based tests include supports for English learners and students with special needs, allowing these students the ability to effectively demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
  • The new assessment system is designed to measure student growth over time, which was not possible in California’s previous system, and will provide teachers and schools important information to guide learning.

What will the Smarter Balanced tests measure?

  • Smarter Balanced tests provide one measure of student knowledge of the subject matter, critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem solving skills they need to prepare for and succeed in today’s world.
  • These assessments provide important information as to whether students are on track to pursue college and career by the time they graduate from high school. The tests provide timely and actionable student information so that teachers and schools can adjust and improve teaching to ensure students have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

What results can we expect from the Smarter Balanced Tests?

  • The new tests are too fundamentally different from the old exams to make any reliable comparisons between old scores and new. This year’s results will establish a new baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.
  • Based on trial runs of the new assessments in California and other states, many if not most students will need to make significant progress to reach the standards set for math and literacy that accompany college and career readiness.
  • Over time, as students experience multiple years of instruction related to the skills tested by the new assessments, California’s results will show improved achievement. (In 2002, California’s new STAR tests also set a new baseline for achievement and student results improved quickly over time.)
  • Parents will receive a report of their child’s scores. But no student, parent or teacher should be discouraged by these new baseline scores, which will not be used to determine whether a student moves on to the next grade. Rather, the scores will represent an opportunity to focus on the needs of students and support teachers and schools in their work to achieve college and career readiness.

How will this system help improve teaching and learning?

  • The Smarter Balanced assessments are an academic check-up, designed to give teachers the feedback they need to improve instruction. The tests measure critical thinking, analytical writing, problem solving, and subject area knowledge, providing teachers with multiple sources of actionable information about student strengths and areas where students need additional support.
  • The system provides two types of interim assessments that teachers and schools can use to assess student learning at key points in the instructional year and to measure student preparedness for year-end summative tests. Both of these tests provide information for teachers to adjust and differentiate teaching in response to the results.
  • The system provides a Digital Library of professional learning and instructional resources to help teachers assess individual student learning during instruction, provide feedback to students in a timely manner, and adjust teaching and learning as needed.

California Content Standards

The California State Content Standards are designed to encourage the highest achievement of K-12 students by defining the knowledge, concepts, and skills students should acquire in each grade level.

Math

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Adopted August 2010 and Modified January 2013 (PDF; 3MB) (April 2014 Electronic Version) The April 2014 Electronic Version (PDF) of the standards includes the correction of printing errors listed on the Errata Sheet (DOC). Please note that these corrections may be found in the Errata Sheet of the printed standards publication (copyright 2013).

Career Technical Education

Education Code Section 51226 provides legal authority to develop the CTE standards and framework. This legislation requires the development and adoption of CTE standards that incorporate the integration of career technical and academic education no later than June 1, 2005. The original CTE Model Curriculum Standards were adopted by the State Board of Education (SBE) on May 11, 2005. The standards, written for grades seven through twelve, specify learning goals in 58 career pathways organized around 15 industry sectors. The California State Plan for Career Technical Education, A BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE 2008–2012, approved by the State Board of Education in May 2008, provides guidance for California’s CTE programs in California. The State Plan states, “CTE programs are dynamic; curricula need to stay current with rapid changes in the workplace, requiring ongoing updates and learning on the part of CTE faculty.” The adoption of the English Language Arts and Mathematics Common Core State Standards furthered the need to revise and align the CTE Standards with this new academic core. Commencing in May 2011, 117 individuals representing secondary and post-secondary education and business and industry met to review the 2005 standards and make recommendations for improvement. Following the May 2011 meeting, industry sector meetings were held to develop the revised CTE standards based on the recommendations. Subsequently, the revised CTE Standards were share with the general public for public review, comment, and suggestions. Once the CTE Standards were revised, academic and CTE teachers collaborated on the alignment with the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Core Ideas, and the History/Social Science Standards.  The newly revised CTE Model Curriculum Standards designed to prepare students to be both Career and College ready were adopted by the SBE on January 16, 2013.

By Industry Sector

 Next Generation Science Standards and STEM

On September 4, 2013, the State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (CA NGSS) as required by California Education Code 60605.85. The NGSS Appendices A-M were also adopted to assist teachers in the implementation of the new science standards and to aid in the development of the new science curriculum framework. The California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) can be viewed by grade level Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI): Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Physical Sciences or by grade level Topic (e.g.: Chemical Reactions, Structure and Function, or Space Systems). California additions to the NGSS are identified in red boldface text and were incorporated by the California Science Expert Review Panel. One California clarification statement can be found in each of the following standards: 4-LS1-1, 4-PS3-1, 5-PS1-4, 5-ESS1-1, 5-ESS2-1, MS-LS1-1, HS-ESS2-6

Standards arranged by Disciplinary Core Ideas (Life, Earth and Space, and Physical Science)

NGSS Middle School Grades 6-8

These documents provide middle school educators the rationale and the CA NGSS for the preferred Integrated Learning Progression Course for middle grades six through eight and the Alternative Discipline Specific Courses for grades six through eight. The documents also describe learning progressions for each grade level. Preferred Integrated Learning Progression Course (DOC) This document provides middle school educators the rationale for the Preferred Integrated Learning Progression Course arrangement of standards developed by the California Science Expert Panel. Documents containing the standards for each grade level are below.

Preferred Integrated Standards arranged by Disciplinary Core Ideas

Alternative Discipline Specific Course (DOC) This document provides middle school educators the rationale for the Alternative Discipline Specific Course arrangement. Documents containing the standards for each grade level are below.

NGSS High School Grades 9-12

Standards arranged by Disciplinary Core Ideas (Life, Earth and Space, and Physical Science) Grades 9-12 by Disciplinary Core Ideas (DOC) Standards arranged by Topic (e.g.; Chemical Reactions, Structure and Function, or Space Systems) Grades 9-12 by Topic (DOC)

NGSS Appendices A-M

The NGSS Appendices A-M External link opens in new window or tab. were adopted to assist teachers in the implementation of NGSS and in the development of the new science curriculum framework.

Model School Library Standards

Model School Library Standards, Adopted September 2010 (PDF; 1MB)

Social Studies / History

History-Social Science, Adopted October 1998 (PDF)

World Languages

World Language, Adopted January 2009 (PDF; 4MB)

CAASPP

On January 1, 2014, California Education Code Section 60640 established the CAASPP System of assessments. The CAASPP – CalEdFacts Web page provides a more detailed overview of the system. For 2014–15, the CAASPP System includes the following required assessments and tools:

  • Smarter Balanced Assessments – The Summative Assessments, Interim Assessments, and Digital Library are all part of the CAASPP System.
    • Summative Assessments – In grades 3 through 8 and 11 for English–language arts (ELA) and mathematics. The Summative Assessments are administered as part of the CAASPP System.
    • Interim Assessments – Designed to inform and promote teaching and learning by providing information that can be used to monitor student progress toward mastery of the Common Core State Standards. These optional resources are available to all K–12 teachers in ELA and mathematics.
    • Digital Library – Consists of tools and practices designed to help teachers utilize formative assessment processes for improved teaching and learning in all grades. These optional resources are available to all K–12 teachers.
  • Alternate assessments for ELA and mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and 11. The California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) for ELA and mathematics has been suspended. All CAPA eligible students will instead participate in an a field test of an alternate assessment to be administered from April 15 to June 10, 2015. The CAPA for science in grades 5, 8, and 10 will continue to be administered until a replacement assessment is available.
  • Science assessments in grades 5, 8, and 10 (i.e., California Standards Tests [CST], California Modified Assessment [CMA], and CAPA).
  • Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS) for reading/language arts in grades 2 through 11 (optional).

California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE)

In California, all high school students must pass a test to earn a high school diploma. The test is called the CAHSEE. Some students with disabilities do not have to pass this test.

California created the test to improve student achievement in high schools. The test helps to ensure that students graduate from high school with grade level skills in reading, writing, and math.

Students first take this test in grade ten. If they do not pass the test in grade ten, they have more chances to take the test. In grade eleven, they can take the test two times. In grade twelve, they have up to five times to take the test.