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Computer testing offers high-res glimpse of student progress

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SFUSD has opted to use computers for standardized testing instead of pencil-and-paper exams to get a clearer understanding of students’ learning. (Courtesy photo)
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In case you missed it, last week the California Department of Education released the results of the annual student assessments in English and math. Last spring, approximately 26,000 San Francisco Unified School District students in grades 3 to 8 and 11 took these state assessments, called the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).

We don’t wait for these annual test results to show us how our students are doing. Our teachers are checking for understanding throughout the school year by administering district interim assessments. But we do take the results of the CASSPP very seriously.

Tests are one source of information regarding how well we are serving our students. More importantly, they are a helpful tool for our educators to reflect on what their students need.

While we don’t rely on any single measure, these tests give us a better snapshot than previous standardized tests.

SOME BACKGROUND

First of all, the way our students take tests has changed dramatically over the last few years.

The exams are all on a computer now. The questions require more than just “yes” or “no” answers. And, based on how a student answers one question, the computer then adapts the following questions to get a much clearer picture of where the student is in their learning.

So, basically, instead of the fuzzy, low-resolution picture we used to get from pencil-and-paper tests, we get a higher-resolution, more well-rounded one.

WHAT WE’RE SEEING

This year we see that a greater percentage of SFUSD students are proficient in English and math than any other large urban district in California.

However, what continues to concern us is there is still a gap between how white and Chinese students perform on these tests and how black and Latino students do.

MEANWHILE, IN OTHER DATA

We have a strong commitment to improving outcomes for our black students, which means getting to the root of what our kids need to succeed.

Fortunately we have other data that show things are moving in the right direction. High school graduation rates for our black students are improving.

OVERALL

We’re happy to see an upward trend in our district-wide standardized test scores for the past three years.

While many factors contribute to student success, we know that most of all, it’s the hard work of teachers, students and their families that has led to stronger academic performance each year.

Our mission as an organization is to provide each and every student the quality instruction and equitable support required to thrive in the 21st century. We won’t stop striving to live up to this mission.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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