Walnut High joins California schools in giving Smarter tests

This spring, in California and states across the nation, the usual barrage of standardized tests have been put on hold. California districts are getting at least a two-year reprieve from the ubiquitous Academic Performance Index scores used to track the quality of schools and districts over time.

Instead, educators are preparing for the next big thing: The new Smarter Balanced English-language arts and mathematics tests aligned to the new Common Core standards that school districts have already begun using in classrooms. Walnut High School is administering the test this week.

“It’s going well so far, but it’s quite a change for our students,” said Principal Jeff Jordan.

The new tests emphasize a deeper knowledge of subjects, displaying use of the reasoning process and the ability to give complex answers, and not just skill at choosing the correct answer out of four possible choices.

“They’re more critical-thinking skills, and we’ve been talking about that for a long time, but if you’re only asking A, B, C or D, you don’t get the chance to elaborate,” said Wendy Claflin, principal of Colin Powell Elementary School in Long Beach. “It’s kind of more true to life, because there’s not just one true answer.”

The nationwide field test started at the end of March and ends on June 6.

They need the ramp-up time: Unlike the familiar California Standards Tests, the new Smarter Balanced tests aren’t conducted by filling in little circles with a No. 2 pencil. Instead, they’re adaptive tests taken via computer, administered via the Internet.

Read more in Beau Yarbrough’s story TESTS.