Schools prep for new standards | November 30, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 30, 2012

Schools prep for new standards

Out with the STAR test, in with new metrics when national standards take effect in 2014

by Chris Kenrick

California schools will revamp their standardized tests in 2014, replacing the California Standards Test (STAR) with a new exam to assess students under the soon-to-be implemented "Common Core State Standards."

The new standards — set to take effect in all but a handful of states by the 2014-15 school year — are a push by the nation's governors and state school chiefs to align diverse curricula across the nation with the knowledge and skills they say are needed for success in college and the workplace.

In Palo Alto, teachers, principals and administrators have been discussing what the new standards will mean locally since last spring.

"A lot is left up to the school districts — there isn't exactly one way to do this, and we want to listen to teacher insights," said Charles Young, Palo Alto's associate superintendent for educational services.

The Common Core State Standards do not dictate specific curriculum, though they do recommend types of books that could be suitable for various grade levels, Young said.

"We're digging into them, learning them and seeing how these can help us improve a system that's already really strong," he said.

At an upcoming meeting of principals, JLS Principal Sharon Ofek will give a presentation on testing under the new standards that's being developed by a state-led consortium called Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Young said.

It's been 15 years since California last adopted new standards for math and English.

The existing standards match the Common Core standards "in their level of rigor and call for high expectations for all students," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said.

But the new standards "provide for additional skills and knowledge necessary in a global economy and technology-rich workplace," he said.

"For example, under the Common Core State Standards students will learn to work collaboratively and use digital media to express and present evidence-based fiction and non-fiction literary analysis," Torlakson said.

"The Common Core State Standards also focus on extending mathematical thinking to real-world challenges so that students develop a depth of understanding and an ability to solve everyday problems through the power of mathematics."

Young said he thinks Palo Alto students will notice changes brought about by the new standards.

"I think kids will notice some difference in the way we look at writing and also the way we look at reading in younger grades," he said.

"In language arts, around writing, you'll see for example a move away from an emphasis on persuasion to presenting an argument and a logical display of thought process. You'll see more expository-type writing," he said.

Perhaps most noticeable to students will be changes in standardized testing.

California is part of the 31-member Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups working to formulate tests to measure performance under the new standards.

"There are already banks of tests you can go to and look at," Young said.

The new system will allow "use of assessment data in a much more fruitful way than the current system because the nature of the questions is more sophisticated. It's not just multiple choice, but the questions involve more critical thinking and problem-solving."

End-of-year "summative assessments" will be mandatory under the new system, but Young said he's more excited about the possibility of more frequent, lower-stakes "interim" and "formative" tests, which will be optional.

"When you do that more frequently you can identify kids who need additional help and modify your instructional practices based on assessment data," he said. "It will benefit kids and us more."

Developed under the leadership of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards have been fully adopted by every state except Alaska, Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at