Sioux Falls, SD
It's one of the most-discussed topics in school districts across South Dakota this year. The new common core standards are being implemented in classrooms across the state.
This spring, new tests, called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, will be given to gauge how well students are stacking up against the new standards.
The assessment was developed by a consortium of state education officials and is a computer based test aligned with the new common core standards for math and English language arts.
"I can definitely see questions he's going to struggle with," Sioux Falls parent Scott Stadheim said after taking a practice test.
"She's doing these right now, so it's fun because it's things she's seeing," Sioux Falls parent Sharon Schulz-Elsing said about the practice assessment.
Schulz-Elsing has a fourth grader and a seventh grader in the Sioux Falls School District. Only students in third through eighth grade, and 11th grade in high school, are going to be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Schulz-Elsing took the fourth grade practice math test for us which is more than a multiple choice test, some questions ask students to place numbers and equations in groups.
"It's finding numbers basically that you can divide 27 by, or divide 35 by or factors," Schulz-Elsing said as she took the test.
Stadheim has a third grader and he took the third grade English test which requires you to read a passage and then answer questions.
The English test not only asks multiple choice questions about the passages students read but also asks them to explain their answer, and sometimes asks them to write a short essay.
"You get into the first question and it says which word best describes Keith Wilson. There's nothing in the text that says Keith is bossy, Keith is greedy, Keith is skillful, Keith is thankful. There is nothing in the test that specifically comes out to that," Stadheim said as he took the test.
Stadheim says the test furthered his concerns about common core because many of the questions and answers can be left up to interpretation.
"I could envision one scorer scoring a question higher than another score potentially because of that subjectivity which especially for a third grader I don’t think is fair," Stadheim said.
"Not only do they need to answer questions from that passage, which really captures the way things used to be, but the next part is to say how did you arrive at that answer? What did you see in the passage that allowed you to answer the question the way you did?" education consultant Rick Melmer said.
Melmer is the former South Dakota Secretary of Education who now works as an education consultant for one of the groups that helped develop common core. He says the whole basis of the standards revolves around answering and explaining.
"What we're really doing is trying to take learning beyond the factual level and get it into extended learning where you not only have to answer the question but also demonstrate how you arrived at that," Melmer said.
Melmer says the testing is designed to be more rigorous and says it will challenge students more than the standardized tests they used to take.
The practice tests don’t give parents scores but Stadheim and Schulz-Elsing did walk away with a better understanding of common core.
Schulz-Elsing says she likes the direction education is moving.
"It made me think and it's been awhile since I've touched some of these things, especially in math.
“You have to figure things out and that’s what life is, it’s figuring things out," Schulz-Elsing said.
Stadheim says he has concerns about common core and the fact that the Smarter Balanced Assessment leaves room for interpretation in many of the questions and answers - even at a third grade level.
"There are too many people from way too far away that have way too much involvement in how my child in Sioux Falls South Dakota is being evaluated," Stadheim said.
Forty-six states, including South Dakota, are implementing the common core standards right now.
Melmer says officials expect students will not score as high on the new assessments this year since they are so different.
If you want to take a practice test click here.
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