Smarter Balance testing begins in Merced schools

Field testing of the state’s new computerized standards exam is underway in Merced schools, with administrators saying professional development training that occurred earlier is making the process easier.

In the Merced City School District, third- through eighth-grade students at most campuses are taking the Smarter Balance test that’s part of the new Common Core Instructional Standards, according to Annie Dossetti, assistant superintendent for educational services.

The online testing began this week and runs through April 17 in the Merced Union High School District. The process has gone very well, Tammie Calzadillas, assistant superintendent for educational services, said.

Dossetti stressed the online exams give students and teachers a chance to experience what the real thing will be like in a year’s time.

“The results don’t count. It’s more of a test of the test, a dress rehearsal. I think the kids are really excited about the tests,” Dossetti said. “They are taking it very seriously and want to make sure they are doing a good job. We think the students are going to embrace it.”

Calzadillas said there have been a few glitches with students logging on to take the test but otherwise the process has been smooth.

“The work done to prepare staff has paid off immensely,” she said. “Students have found the test challenging.”

Juniors are taking the Smarter Balance test and others are taking life science tests. Calzadillas said students at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater took the test last year. Ninth-graders took English exams and juniors took math tests.

State legislation mandated school districts field-test the Smarter Balance test in lieu of the customary California Standards Test, Calzadillas said. Results will go back to the testing consortium for research but won’t go back to the school or students.

Students are showing a comfort level in using the new technology, said Paula Heupel, the city school district’s director of curriculum, instruction and staff development, so the district will be in a good position when the tests count.

“We have been out at the sites and there is lots of excitement among staff and students,” she said. “Students are very engaged and are highly motivated.”

Heupel praised board of education members for their vision in adopting the Common Core implementation plan last December. That included purchases of Google Chromebooks and training teachers and support staff.

That’s also the feedback from the city district’s learning directors and resource teachers, Dossetti said. The testing will be going on until May 16; the testing process takes about three days.