Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Indianola Educators Present about Smarter Balanced Assessments at Iowa Association of School Boards Conference

The move to adopt a new student assessment system is a change for public education in Iowa. A more rigorous state assessment has the potential to elevate teaching and learning in Iowa, yet brings challenges, concerns, and questions that local school districts are investigating. On November 17, 2016, Indianola Superintendent Art Sathoff, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Cindy Slauson, and Instructional Coaches Lisa Msuya and Leigh Bellville presented about the work underway at Indianola to prepare for this change.

Click here to access the handout shared with conference attendees. Click here to access the Smarter Balanced Assessment website created for ICSD.

Indianola educators have been actively involved with the work of Smarter Balanced for several years. Leigh Bellville has created resources for the Smarter Balanced Digital Library and served with the Iowa Department of Education on the Statewide Literacy Leadership Team to develop instructional resources and learning for educators to implement Iowa Core standards. Mrs. Bellville has also served on the Iowa Department of Education's Statewide Assessment Advisory to advise on implementation of a comprehensive balanced assessment system in Iowa. Lisa Msuya has created resources for the Smarter Balanced Digital Library and is working with the Indianola Middle School writing team to prepare students for upcoming performance assessments.

Leigh Bellville shared with attendees during the session, "Regardless of whether you are a Core advocate, I think we can all agree it is essential students are assessed using a test aligned to the Common Core. As educators we are asked by the state to teach students the skills included in the Iowa Core for college and career readiness; therefore, we need an assessment that is aligned with those expectations."

Cindy Slauson pointed out several advantages for Smarter Balanced.  For example, it is computer adaptive and districts will receive access to a digital library on July 1, 2016, which includes professional learning modules and lessons teachers can implement in the classroom. She explained the difference between block and comprehensive assessments to attendees and emphasized the rationale for SB as career readiness: "The online format with extended research, writing, and problem-solving tasks measure critical thinking and problem-solving skills students require for success." In addition, cost was shared based on estimates provided by the Iowa Department of Education. Mrs. Slauson stated that SB interim tests are included in the purchase price of the suite. Notably, these interim assessments will assist in preparing students for the summative test and can be used in place of current Chapter 12 tests to prevent over-testing.

Lisa Msuya shared that Smarter Balanced is different than previous assessments. "As well as being more aligned to Common  Core, Smarter Balanced offers interim assessments that districts can use to make adjustments to instruction during the school year," she shared. "Additionally, Smarter Balanced has been created and reviewed by educators. Smarter Balanced equally supports the instruction of all the Language Arts standards including writing, an essential skill which our teachers believe has been underemphasized on state assessments in the past."

Following the session, Leigh Bellville pointed out that feedback by attendees during and after the Q&A session solidified the importance of adopting an assessment aligned with the Core. It is important to prepare teachers in Iowa for instructional shifts, and district leaders and communities for the differences the new assessment will bring. For example, Dave Christensen, a member of the Mt. Pleasant CSD School Board, shared a concern that the direction of professional learning for teachers should focus on in-depth understanding and implementation of instructional shifts to ensure the growth of students across the state. Further, Mr. Christensen shared insight about the old and new assessment based on his professional experience, attending a Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) conference in Minnesota, and his involvement this year in two SBAC trainings in California:

"District leaders, journalists, and school board members must not compare NCLB proficiency scores at the 40th percentile with SBAC college and career readiness scores. CCR scores ask, 'Are you on the path to CCR or is there a gap?' It is not about a percentile. Proficiency scores are 'dinosaurs' compared to the 'apples' of SBAC. SBAC was designed to tell a story of 'growth' versus a tale of 'punishment and sanctions.' . . . Teachers must know what story each assessment can and cannot tell. For that matter so should board members, journalists, and DE/AEA reps. If we put more credence on any one assessment than it deserves, we alter the instructional decision-making path of local classroom teachers. And only local teachers can use their creativity to make the spirit and intent of new standards in every content area come alive for our children and youth." (D. Christensen, personal communication, 23 November 2016)

Several other attendees posed excellent questions and points to consider during the Q&A session. One audience member asked how we will communicate with district leaders, parents, and community members regarding the transition to SB. In Indianola, information has been presented to teacher leaders and administrators, which will continue in December. Leigh Bellville, Lisa Msuya, and Cindy Slauson have also shared information with the Indianola School Board.

The Iowa Department of Education has a "train the trainer" program to assist districts in moving forward with SB. Leigh Bellville attended this training as a representative for the Indianola Community School District and shared about that experience: "We have met as a team in Indianola to plan for next steps based on the expectations set forth during the AEA, IHE, district, and school led professional learning. Included in the materials from the training are ELA/literacy and mathematics summative assessment blueprints that are available for more information regarding testing time, content categories, and the number of test items." Mrs. Bellville shared that she will add these resources to the ICSD Smarter Balanced website in response to an attendee's question regarding the content that will be tested and emphasized that SB recommends teaching the skills in the Common Core to prepare students for the assessments.

Superintendent Art Sathoff added that plans are still coming together about how to communicate these changes. "We understand the importance of communication regarding the new assessment. We will employ a variety of communication methods, such as the district website, district Facebook page, blogs, SIAC, district newsletter, and letters to parents," Mr. Sathoff said.

Indianola CSD created a Smarter Balanced Assessment website with the intent of using it as a tool for communication. The site will be updated frequently and will house important information and resources that teachers and community members can access for guidance during the transition to Smarter Balanced Assessments.

(L to R) Indianola CSD Superintendent Art Sathoff, Instructional Coach Leigh Bellville, Instructional Coach Lisa Msuya, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Cindy Slauson