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Superintendent's Message

CAASPP - New State Testing & Higher Standards
August 2015

pic1 Late this month, we’re expecting to get the results from our new state testing program -- California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).  The state testing program includes several tests including the primary test which was piloted last year. The Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) replaced the paper & pencil tests for students in grades 3 through 8 and 11th graders. Students take the complete test on computers - either desktops, laptops or tablets. These tests reflect the higher standards that the State Board of Education adopted in 2010. 


The SBAC results will give us our first look at how our students are doing in mastering the standards in the California Common Core for English language arts and math. Even before the California Department of Education releases the district and school scores, parents of students who were in in grades 3-8 and 11 last year will be receiving individual student reports. These reports will include detailed information about their child’s performance on new, computer-based tests in English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics, which replaced the former paper-based exams. 


Like the new learning goals they were designed to measure, the SBAC tests in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics are too fundamentally different from the old exams to make any reliable comparisons between old scores and new. That’s why this year’s scores are better thought of as a starting point -- a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time. Because this is the first year that students are taking these new tests, overall scores may be viewed as a basis from which to compare performance in future years.

pic2 Most students in WCCUSD will need to make significant progress to reach the standards set for math and ELA that accompany college and career readiness. No student, parent or teacher should be discouraged by scores, which will not be used to determine whether a student moves on to the next grade. Rather, the results can help guide discussions among parents and teachers, and help teachers and schools adjust instruction to meet student needs.

pic3 Nearly everyone agrees that students today need to be better prepared for college and career than ever before. The workplace has evolved over many years to require skills and abilities that simply weren’t necessary when the parents and grandparents of today’s students were in school.  The California Common Core standards reflect the rigor and proficiency that young people need to be successful at college and in their future careers. 

Here’s a sample math problem for a 4th grader:


A rectangle is 6 feet long and has a perimeter of 20 1/3 feet.


What is width of this rectangle? Explain how you solved this problem.


The key is that students have to not only be able to get the right answer, they have to explain the steps they took to get their answer. 


Here’s an example for 6th grade math.


Claire is filling bags with sand. All the bags are the same size. Each bag must weigh less than 50 pounds. One sand bag weighs 58 pounds, another sand bag weighs 41 pounds, and another sand bag weighs 53 pounds. Explain whether Claire can pour sand between sand bags so that the weight of each bag is less than 50 pounds.


Below is one more math problem tested at the 8th grade level.


For each linear equation in the table select whether the equation has no solution, one solution, or infinitely many solutions and in the space below explain why.



No Solution

One Solution

Infinitely Many Solutions


36x  + 24 =  12(x  + 2 +  2x)





x  =  x  +  1





-12(x  + 2)  =  -14x  + 2




The English language arts tests require students to do much more reading and writing than the prior tests and to generally perform at a much higher level aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  Below is an example of a 4th grade task.
pic4 The following is the beginning of a story that a student is writing for a class assignment. The story needs more details and an ending. Read the beginning of the story and then complete the task that follows. 



Oliver’s Big Splash


Oliver was a dog that lived in a small town near a lake. He loved to play outside. Oliver liked to play fetch, but his favorite thing to do was to chase leaves. He loved chasing leaves so much that his favorite time of year was fall when the leaves fell off the trees.


One beautiful fall day, Oliver and his owner, Jeff, went for a walk around the lake. They were enjoying the sunshine and the lake when suddenly a dragonfly flew past. For a moment, Oliver forgot where he and Jeff were and what they were doing. All of a sudden there was a big splash.


Write an ending for the story by adding details to tell what happens next


The complexity increases greatly as students progress through the grades. By 11th grade, students not only have to be able to write, but to edit and revise work that is not their own.  


The following paragraph is an excerpt from a student's report about plant life in the southern United States. After reading the paragraph, you will identify details that are unnecessary and explain why they should be removed.


The Invasion of Kudzu


In 1876, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hosted the Centennial Exposition in honor of the country’s 100th birthday. The Japanese constructed one of the most popular exhibits, primarily due to an amazing vine called kudzu. For centuries, the Japanese used the pea vine for many purposes, including medicine, but what attracted the Americans the most were the sweet-smelling purple flowers that covered the vine. The warm, moist climate of the southern states—from Georgia to Florida and north to the Carolinas—was the most hospitable part of the US for the vine. Temperatures in Georgia can reach into the 90s, and the humidity is often above 90%. Residents all over the southeast began planting kudzu. The vine’s success caught the attention of many, including Channing Cope who promoted its use for erosion control and animal feed, especially during the Great Depression. Because of the depression, many homes were left abandoned, so there was not anyone to care for them and keep the plants properly groomed. No one predicted, however, that the vine would end up taking over. The vines slowly engulfed pine forests, telephone poles, and even houses, leading to the destruction of native plant life. Pines are not the only trees in the South, however. There are about 250 species of trees in Georgia alone. As kudzu out-competed the local plants, it deprived them of nutrients and, especially, sunlight. Kudzu now covers over 7 million acres of land, and it continues to expand at the rate of 150,000 acres annually. That is almost one foot per day! Attempts to kill it have proven difficult, as it is immune to most herbicides; thus, pic5 kudzu continues to smother the southern states. Researchers continue to search for a solution to “the vine that ate the South,” but the answer is nowhere in sight.

In the space below, identify the sentences from the paragraph that are unnecessary, and briefly explain why each one should be removed.



As we continue our in depth professional development on the Common Core with our teachers, and as teachers continue to implement that training in our classrooms, we’ll definitely see improvement in our student performance over time because in WCCUSD, we’re all committed to making sure all our students are prepared for college and career.



Bruce Harter

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