Students and parents will notice some changes when they return to school after summer break. Local districts are preparing for the first-ever scores released under the new Smarter Balanced test, planning ahead for new vaccine legislation and opening new facilities on campus.
While standardized test scores have historically been used to compare how a student’s achievement has changed over the years or how they measure up against their peers, that’s being discouraged this time around.
Instead, this year’s test results – expected to be released later this month or in early September – should be considered a baseline to track schools’ future progress. That’s because for the first time, schools across the state will receive scores from the new Smarter Balanced test.
The tests, based on Common Core standards that are more rigorous and analytical, were administered statewide last spring. They are computer-based, interactive tests instead of the pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice STAR tests students took in previous years. The federally mandated tests are given to students in grades 3-8 and 11.
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Fresno County students first took the test in 2014 as a sort of dry run, but those scores were never released to schools and the public.
When teachers and parents receive test scores soon, they’ll look different – but their intentions are the same, said Corey Greenlaw, director of assessment, data and grants for the Fresno County Office of Education.
“We’re still looking at things like language arts and math, but there’s a different breakdown. In California, we got used to scores being grouped into these five levels of proficiency, but this time, parents at first are going to say, ‘Hmmm, what do these numbers mean?’” Greenlaw said.
The new test scores mimic the new standards: they’re more detailed and track students’ growth more closely, Greenlaw said. Scores will be broken down into specific target areas. For example, a student won’t just receive a score for language arts, but also scores for skills like “listening” and “research and inquiry” regarding that subject.
Greenlaw said the new score setup, like the new standards, are meant to provide a more analytical approach to learning.
What we’ve tried to make clear to parents is that first and foremost you cannot compare to years past. It’s not a valid way of looking at this data
Kelly Avants, Clovis Unified School District
“Now the way we are assessing it and the way we’re teaching it in classrooms is not only learning, but applying. If a student learns geometry and knows about squares, but doesn’t have a hook to hang it on and doesn’t understand how it’s used to build a home, then they’re missing it,” he said. “I teach statistics, and statistics in and of themselves are boring, but when I apply it to baseball, for a lot of people it’s very interesting.”
The county education office has praised Clovis Unified School District for its preliminary outreach to parents and students about the new tests. The district sat down with students to ask about their concerns and experiences regarding the new tests, and posted informational videos to the district website.
Kelly Avants, spokeswoman for Clovis Unified, knows that standardized test scores – and how they’re used to rank schools – is controversial, so informing parents, students and teachers about the changes was a priority.
“What we’ve tried to make clear to parents is that first and foremost you cannot compare to years past. It’s not a valid way of looking at this data. Really to compare at all is virtually impossible, because the tests are very, very different,” Avants said. “Anytime we change something dramatically, which is the case here, there’s a natural adjustment period. We are fully anticipating that our percents are going to change because we’re starting down a new path.”
While the new statewide vaccination law doesn’t go into effect until next summer, school districts are warning parents who have filed exemptions in the past that soon they will no longer have the option.
Starting July 1, all children enrolled in public and private schools or day cares must be vaccinated against whooping cough, measles and other diseases. In the past, state law allowed parents to file for exemptions based on religious and personal beliefs, but a new law will make vaccines mandatory. The bill was introduced following a measles outbreak at Disneyland last year.
Children with certain medical conditions will be allowed an exemption. Otherwise, families who don’t want their children vaccinated in California will have to home-school them.
Students who already claim a personal-belief exemption will have to get fully vaccinated by the next vaccine checkpoints, which are kindergarten and seventh grade.
About 97 percent of students at Fresno Unified School District – the fourth largest district in the state – are fully vaccinated already, according to Gail Williams, director of health services for the district.
“This year, parents can still ask for a waiver, and we will still process it, but the caveat for parents is that at some point, it will be null and void,” she said. “But many parents – even those who had the personal belief waiver in the past – changed their mind after [the Disney outbreak] and wanted the immunization.”
Williams said it’s important for parents to realize, though, that just because waivers are still being accepted, the district will plan to crack down next school year.
“We have an obligation to follow state law…and we’ll have to adjust our policies according to new education code,” she said. “Over the course of this year, we will set up our policies and guidelines for that and train our staff on what information parents need to know. We are determining the best notification methods.”
The main focus is on incoming preschoolers and kindergartners – students who are guaranteed to be held to stricter vaccination laws.
The caveat for parents is that at some point, it will be null and void
Fresno Unified Director of Health Services Gail Williams on vaccine waivers
April Haupt has filed vaccine waivers this year for her two sons — one in first grade, the other in pre-kindergarten — and says that if her sons are denied enrollment next year, she’ll home-school them or move them out of the country.
Haupt’s children attend Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in Fresno, but her concern about vaccines started when they were babies attending regular doctor checkups.
“I thought now, wait a minute, this seems like a lot of chemicals to be putting into a developing baby,” Haupt said. “I think if you don’t have the option to say no, you’re getting to a communist state at that point. I don’t think it bodes well for the future of anyone in California.”
Haupt said she especially takes issue with the fact that doctors assure vaccinations have been medically tested – but laws prohibit that testing be conducted on children.
“People just assume things are safe because the doctor said it’s safe,” she said. “It’s really sad to me because I don’t think people realize that they ever had a choice.”
Students at Fresno Unified School District will return to new buildings, classrooms and amenities — all results of the Measure Q bond measure approved by voters in 2010.
The expansive facilities upgrades will be most noticeable at Baird Middle School and McLane, Edison and Hoover high schools.
At McLane High, a new academic building housing 15 additional classrooms and five computer labs will open its doors to students for the first time Monday.
Baird Middle School’s campus will offer a new gym that will accommodate basketball, volleyball and badminton.
New pools have been installed at Edison and Hoover high schools.
Hoover High’s $5.5 million pool complex has special needs access “unmatched in the Valley.” A special ramp allows mobile devices to roll directly into the pool and also has a designated lane for swimmers with special needs. Hoover officials plan to open the pool to local Special Olympics athletes.
Edison High’s pool is part of the Fresno Unified Board of Trustees’ vote last year to set aside $8 million for facilities projects across the district’s high schools. The project includes new locker rooms, a snack bar and raised, covered bleachers.
About $175 million worth of facilities projects have been completed so far or are underway as a result of Measure Q funding.
Other ongoing projects include work at Bullard High, heating and air conditioning upgrades at several schools, modernization of Addicott Elementary and new buildings at Robinson Elementary and Turner Elementary to replace portable classrooms.
The Phillip J. Patino School of Entrepreneurship, located behind Ratcliffe Stadium at Cambridge Avenue and Clark Street, is the district’s newest school and will open its doors for the first time Monday.
School bells ring
The first day of school at Clovis Unified is Aug. 24. The first day at Fresno Unified School District is Monday Sanger Unified returns to class on Thursday, and Central Unified opened its doors last week.