Teachers, students adjust to new state test standards

Before spring break, CHS juniors participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium field tests. These tests were themselves not assessed by the state, simply acting as a practice run of the system to ensure that the questions are fair to students, while providing teachers and administration a chance to gauge how ready they are for the actual assessment in spring 2015.

But the practice tests signify a change in curriculum as well. Carmel High teachers have been working hard to address the Common Core standards that the SBAC tests and to make sure their students are capable of performing well on the test.

“The English department has been working for two years to change its curriculum and address the Common Core,” says Whitney Grummon, head of the English department. “The issues that we had to address to help our students do well on the SBAC include making inferences, figuring out vocabulary in context, being sure to use evidence from your reading and being able to synthesize a variety of sources into one response.”

As such, speaking and listening has become even more important than it was before in English classes. But it’s not just the English department that has had to adapt.

“We’ve been aware of [the change in curriculum] since 2010,” math department chair Juan Gomez says. “We’re currently adopting new textbooks, and we’ve been working on teaching students to think using the eight mathematical practices, so there’s been a lot of problem solving. In the future, we’re going to be working more on getting students to revisit tasks.”

Along with new content to test for, the test itself is done through a new format. The practice test was run through computers, as opposed to the usual pencil-and-paper routine. While this may be a more modern choice, it is not without its flaws.

“The online format will take some getting used to,” Grummon says. “It’s formatted with different windows and you have to move back and forth between everything, so it’s a little bit clunky and awkward.”

“I don’t know if I really liked it on the computer,” Jack Zubick says. “It was easier than paper, but it’ll take some getting used to.”

Gomez thinks that the format may be beneficial.

“The drag-and-drop format gives teachers a better read on what students know,” Gomez says. “The fact that we make students interact with the material on a deeper level is something that I think will benefit us. And kids can be done with the test in, potentially, as few as 12 questions, instead of everybody having to do 66 questions.”

Students have mixed responses to the testing itself. With the knowledge that the test has no affect on their grades, some students didn’t see the point of the assessment or found the format to be clumsy.

“Some of the students were annoyed by it because it really had no impact at all,” Gomez says. “But I had several students tell me, ‘I like that.’”

Andres Enriquez adheres to the former belief.

“I didn’t really like it that much,” Enriquez says. “It was a waste of my time really.”

Luke Bovenzi agrees.

“All of the questions threw me off,” Bovenzi says. “They were challenging for an average student. I feel like I was unprepared.”

Luckily for both students and teachers, Common Core standards themselves are being implemented without much complaint.

“I think the Common Core standards make perfect sense,” Grummon says. “You now have students reflect in their speaking and their writing, you have students sharing their ideas out loud, and they are providing specific evidence to any claims they might want to make. It’s all just good teaching.”

And Gomez feels that the standards get students to think like they would in real life.

“In the past, math didn’t take that approach,” Gomez says. “It was, ‘Here’s a math problem, do stuff with that.’ It didn’t matter if you understood what you were doing or not, you just did it. So, it’s changing for the better.”

-Sam Graves