Capitol Alert: School survey examines California's Common Core readiness

jwhite@sacbee.comNovember 7, 2013 

4M9CLASS

First-grade teacher Carolyn Goehring uses Common Core methods at Raymond Case Elementary. "This is meant to build a deep understanding of mathematics and to prepare (students) to be successful in higher-level math," she says.

RANDALL BENTON — rpench@sacbee.com

Late last session, after Gov. Jerry Brown had already won approval of his new school funding formula, a bill to nix California's existing standardized tests again pushed education policy into the spotlight.

The bill sought to ease the arrival of new assessments aligned to the Common Core educational standards, aimed at college and career readiness, that nearly every state has adopted. It eliminated California's existing Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR tests.

Rebuffing warnings from the U.S. Department of Education that suspending the tests would dilute accountability, lawmakers said the bill would give districts a needed reprieve from the old system as they prepared teachers for the incoming Common Core standards. Brown's budget also allocated $1.2 billion to prepare districts for the new standards, and lawmakers invoked a sense of urgency.

"The train has left the station," Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, said during a floor debate at the time. "Common Core is here. The teachers are out there doing it."

A new statewide survey of school districts, conducted jointly by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association and the Sacramento County Office of Education, gauges how far schools have come in preparing for the new standards since the State Board of Education approved them back in 2010.

Students will first take the new Smarter Balanced Assessment field tests at the end of this school year in what will essentially be a dry run that won't generate student-level data. While schools statewide will also administer the tests for the 2014-2015 school year, the scores likely won't be incorporated into the Academic Performance Index, or API, used to measure schools. The tests will factor into the API for the 2015-2016 year.

About half of the districts expect to be ready for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the 2014-2015 school year. A quarter said they won't be ready until after the 2015-16 school year.

While most educators know the Common Core standards are coming, fewer districts have moved from being aware of them to being prepared to teach them.

Approximately half the districts surveyed didn't believe teachers in all grades understood the new standards for either English or math; in about 13 percent of districts, teachers have not begun examining the new guidelines. Just under half of districts haven't yet created Common Core-aligned units or lesson plans.

Information about the new guidelines is also lacking in some cases, the survey finds. While the vast majority of districts have communicated the new standards to teachers, only 60 percent have talked with parents about the looming switch.

"Communication about the CCSS and about the shifts expected for the CCSS-aligned assessments is not occurring consistently with parents, students, local business leaders, or local media," the report says.

The $1.2 billion flowing to schools for Common Core is intended to bolster three areas: teacher development, supplemental materials and technology. Districts appear to be confident on the technology piece, with most believing they have strong enough Internet connections to administer the new Common Core-aligned tests, although many districts fretted about their students' level of keyboarding skills.

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