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SFUSD at the head of the class in new statewide standardized testing

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Cesar Chavez Elementary School student Branden Arenal works on math problems based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which was implemented in the SFUSD earlier this year. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s public school students are at the head of the class, at least compared to other large urban school districts in California, according to results of the new statewide academic tests released Wednesday.

Overall, 52 percent of the 25,000 third through eighth and 11th grade San Francisco Unified School District students who participated in the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) last spring met or exceeded standards for English language arts, compared to 44 percent statewide.

Math results were slightly lower, with 48 percent of SFUSD students meeting or exceeding standards compared to 34 percent statewide.

At a news conference at school district offices Wednesday, Superintendent Richard Carranza praised the efforts of educators and students to set benchmark test results that exceeded California’s, and said students benefit from the Common Core education.

“The Common Core standards are really a seismic shift in what our students are supposed to be able to know and do and demonstrate in terms of their knowledge,” Carranza said. “They are much more aligned to a 21st century learning goal and they also prepare our students [for their] college careers and life.”

Carranza noted that despite the district’s overall success with the assessment, black students continued to fall behind their peers. However, he added that San Francisco’s special education students and English language learner students were the highest performing out of the respective groups in the state.

“There are very specific challenges that persist in our data,” Carranza said. “How our students of color are doing, our African American students and our Latino students, continues to be an area of focus for us.”

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment replaced the state’s former STAR testing program as the first-ever method to gauge the impact of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards curriculum, which has been phased into school districts throughout the U.S. since 2010.

The test focuses on critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. The assessment also marked the first statewide exam that was administered entirely with computers.

Students took practice versions of the test last year, the results of which were not included in their records.

The new tests are essentially designed to keep students from guessing answers. While the former standardized testing primarily asked multiple-choice questions of students, the new tests sometimes offered two or three possible correct choices. Students were also tasked with creating a constructed response in which they defended their answer.

SFUSD implemented its Common Core curriculum in math classes in the 2014-15 school year, and English language arts in the previous school year. School leaders are preparing science standards with the rollout for that curriculum anticipated in the coming school years.

Board of Education Commissioner Jill Wynns emphasized that because of the types of questions asked in the new exam, the results of the Smarter Balanced assessment cannot be measured against the previous STAR testing.

“This absolutely cannot be compared at all to what we had before,” Wynns said. “We have to understand that it’s not the same tests.”

There is no state funding tied to the test results, which are used solely to measure the success of the Common Core State Standards.

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