A new approach to testing

A new approach to testing

In SFUSD we realize the importance of using multiple methods to assist us in understanding what a student knows and can do. I want to share one of those methods with you, formative and summative assessments.

Perhaps you remember taking tests in school. I immediately think of filling in bubbles and number two pencils. Well, tests have changed a lot in recent years.

With technology advancements and more well-rounded standards for what a student needs to know, we’ve moved beyond the bubble. These days, tests are more relevant and interesting than the ones I remember. Instead of that fuzzy, low-resolution picture of what a student knows we used to get from pencil-and-paper tests, we get a higher-resolution, and more accurate one. Here’s what we test:


All students in Transitional Kindergarten (TK), Kindergarten, grades 1 & 2 participate in a reading assessment created by Irene Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell. This research-based assessment provides teachers with important information regarding each child’s reading abilities as they progress from reading letters, to words, to texts of increasing complexity. Assessment results provide information for teachers to select texts, and teach reading strategies that match each reader’s specific needs.

All students in grades 3-10 participate in a computer-based reading assessment called Reading Inventory. During these assessments, students read texts, and then select words that complete sentences within those texts. Assessment results provide information for monitoring a child’s progress and growth in reading across the school year and across grade levels.


All students in grades 3-10 participate in the Integrated Writing Assessment (IWA) by early February, each school year. During this assessment, students read texts, and then identify and synthesize important details from their reading to write an informative essay. Assessment results provide information for teachers to design whole/small group and individualized instruction that supports students in becoming proficient writers.


As part of the Math Core Curriculum, all students in Kindergarten through Algebra II/Pre-Calculus participate in the Math Milestone Tasks during the 2018-19 school year. These are constructed response tasks in which students solve a series of math problems, showing their work and explaining their answer.

State Assessments

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Program (CAASPP) is a series of annual state assessments. These tests provide a broad view of a student’s proficiency in grade- or course-level standards. Smarter Balanced ssessments for English Language Arts and Math are administered to students in grades 3-8 and 11, along with science assessments in certain grades. These tests provide a general sense of how students and schools are doing for families, school and district leaders, and state policy makers. Families receive reports containing their child’s state assessment results in late August each year.

Why do we test?

While we don’t rely on any single measure, the tests we use now give us a better snapshot than previous standardized tests. While they are only one source of information regarding how well we are serving our students, they are a helpful tool for our families and educators to reflect on what their students most need to focus on to master a particular skill.

Like class assignments and report cards, assessments provide information to schools, teachers and parents as one gauge of student progress toward mastery of grade and/or course learning goals.

Some parents think we test too much and others don’t think we test enough! I want to assure you, though, that testing remains a very small fraction of time spent in school.

Although the majority of the school day is spent on instruction, assessments are an important part of SFUSD’s plan for high-quality teaching and learning. Tests may not be the most fun, but they let our teachers know on a regular basis how well we are helping each student graduate prepared for college-level coursework and a 21st-century career. And all parents are in favor of that!

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

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