SFUSD may cut down on tests for students

In the wake of statewide standardized testing results released last month, a San Francisco education leader is hoping to change local policies to cut down on the slew of tests students are to take throughout the school year.

Board of Education Commissioner Mark Sanchez introduced a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting that would allow teachers at San Francisco’s public schools to opt out of administering assessments mandated by the San Francisco Unified School District.

These tests are not required by state and federal law and are meant to provide the district and schools with data to better gauge student performance while improving their outcomes. They are also not dependent on the teachers’ curriculum.

“I have seen how tests have been universally scorned by both teachers and by principals,” said Sanchez, a former teacher and principal of nearly a decade. Sanchez said he was “particularly perturbed” that these tests “were home grown and created by the district, without any teacher or principal input that I’m aware of.”

According to the resolution, the SFUSD over the last decade has employed a “battery of interim, non-state, or federally mandated assessments with the aim of improving student’s academic achievement outcomes.”

A survey conducted by United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), The City’s teachers union, at 60 school sites revealed concerns among teachers that district-mandated tests did not align with their curricula, resulted in the loss of instructional and prepping time, and overwhelmed students with “over testing,” according to the resolution.

“I have had kids cry because they knew they had several questions they didn’t know the answer to and couldn’t go back to the answer them. Its heartbreaking,” Pablo Portillo, a fifth grade bilingual teacher at Fairmount Elementary School, said about a new system of computerized tests phased into schools three years ago.

Portillo expressed concerns about equity in regard to the current student assessments.

“Not all students have the same access to technology. Those that are comfortable are going to excel [while] it is frustrating for [other] students,” he said.

Among the tests the resolution seeks to make optional are the Integrated Writing Assessments and the Fountas and Pinnell (F and P) Benchmark Assessments, a test that is given twice per year.

Students in all grades are subject to additional interim assessments “a few times each year” to help teachers adjust their lesson plans, according to the SFUSD’s website.

These SFUSD-administered assessments come in addition to standardized assessments mandated by state and federal law, such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), administered to English Learners. Those tests are not targeted by Sanchez’ resolution and will remain mandatory.

The resolution requires that teachers who opt in to administering the school district’s tests are provided with adequate resources, such as substitute coverage during F and P assessments, which are given to students by teachers on a one-on-one basis.

“With all the resources that have to go into standardized tests to function, we are not just talking about computers,” said Cynthia Lasden, a literacy coach for the school district and executive board member for UESF. “ If we have a 7.5-hour work day and they ask us to enter the data, when are we supposed to do that? It eats into our time to do our lesson planning.”

At lower performing schools, the SFUSD has phased in Instructional Reform Facilitators (IRF), or school improvement and literacy coaches, who among other things manage school student assessments and evaluate the data.

Kelly Clark, an IRF at Charles R. Drew Elementary School in the Bayview District, said interim test results help administrators support
students in their strengths and weaknesses, and to adjust curriculum accordingly.

“We are data driven — we use the date to strengthen what we are doing,” she said.

In recent years, the SFUSD has significantly reduced annual testing hours, from 11 hours in the 2012-13 school year to some 4 hours this school year. Still, interim tests are deemed as critical supplements to state- and federally-mandated student assessments by the school district.

“If we relied solely on state-mandated assessments, a teacher would have to wait until the beginning of the next school year to see how her students from the previous year were progressing toward the state standards,” SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said. “It’s too late for her to do anything with this information that will help individual students.”

But Portillo said that even with computerized testing, teachers are often not privy to students’ scores in time to implement the feedback.

“By the time I get the information, we are beyond whatever we were tested on,” Portillo said. “I don’t really need computer-based testing to know which students need support.”

Portillo said the data shared with him is limited to a report indicating his students’ achievement in relation to the “at grade level” standard. Likewise, parents who receive students’ test results months later and may not understand the results are unable to address areas of weakness with their children.

The curriculum, he added, already has “built in tests” to gauge students’ understanding.

“The [assessments] don’t really give me any information at all,” he said.

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