Rancho Santa Fe School District readies for new Common Core state assessment test


The Rancho Santa Fe School District held a special meeting on April 23 to help parents understand California’s new testing system from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The tests, which replace the STAR tests and are aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, will be given to R. Roger Rowe students during a testing window of May 4-21.

As explained by principals Kim Pinkerton and Garrett Corduan, the SBAC tests are given to students in grades 3 through 8 and include computer adaptive tests in math and English language arts as well as performance tasks in both subjects, designed for students to show how they can integrate knowledge and skills.

The SBAC represents 7 1/2 hours of testing over the two-week period.

Unlike the old paper-and-pencil tests, the tests done on the computer select questions that are appropriately challenging for students, based on their answers to previous questions. No two students will have the same test; each is tailored or customized to the student’s ability level.

As Corduan said, the questions “march” up and down. When a student gives a correct answer, the next question is more difficult. If they answer incorrectly, the following question is slightly easier.

“We tell the students they will get questions they don’t understand, but they should answer to the best of their abilities. The computer will tailor the test to what they know,” Corduan said, noting that of the 50-some questions on the computer test, some students may only get through between 30 and 40 questions.

“It helps us understand the student’s individual ability and how we set an instructional program for each individual child,” Pinkerton said. “What’s wonderful about the SBAC test is that we’re able to track growth over time. We couldn’t do that with the old STAR test.”

Pinkerton said the movement from the old to new tests includes questions that ask for a higher level of thinking and critical skills rather than just basic multiple choice.

The test’s short-response written answers are not incorporated into the computer adaptive system. Pinkerton joked there’s no elves inside the computer reading those answers. The written answers don’t factor into the next question’s level of difficulty, but are graded at a later date by state test scorers to factor into the overall student score.

The performance-task part of the SBAC test follows a classroom activity with the teacher, then a 30-minute discussion and thinking and planning time, without students knowing what the task will be.

“The idea for the performance tests is the application of their conceptual understanding,” Pinkerton said.

She said the tests are based on Common Core standards learned throughout the year, and they have prepped students by taking practice tests to get used to the technology and format of the tests and by having class conversations. She stressed they do not “teach to the test.”

“We have to teach them how to be good test takers, but we focus more on being a learner,” Pinkerton said.

Some parents were concerned that there will be no Academic Performance Index (API) score this year. Pinkerton said the state board of education is still deciding whether or how APIs will be generated for school districts.

With each child undergoing potentially more than seven hours of testing, parents wondered how useful the tests are if the results can’t be compared with other schools in the state or nationally.

“The students are most important in my mind,” Pinkerton said, adding that the only comparison she’s interested in is whether a student is growing. “The goal is to make sure each child is moving forward and progressing at a rate that’s appropriate.”

“This is not the end-all, be-all assessment — this is just one component,” she said. Data will be triangulated from a variety of assessments to understand a student’s overall ability.

In addition to the SBAC tests, students take the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests twice yearly, and fifth- and eighth-grade students will take the California Standards Test (CST) in science.

Parents have also expressed privacy concerns about the computer tests. Pinkerton assured parents that no data is sold to third parties, students’ names and identification numbers are never put together, and no personal information is asked in written narrative questions. She said students at R. Roger Rowe are always taught to be “good digital citizens” and to never unveil personal information online.

At least one parent said he planned to opt out of the test, part of a movement nationwide to protest Common Core and standardized testing. Pinkerton said to opt out of the test, a parent just has to write a handwritten letter to the school.

Parents can learn more about the tests at the California Department of Education’s CAASPP page at and can view practice tests at