Getting the right answers won't be enough anymore

If you were asked to figure out if a human could drink all the water in a swimming pool, what would your answer be and could you show how you arrived at it?

Del Norte students hunkering down for yet another school year will face similar questions as the district transitions to the new Common Core State Standards. They could also face a new technology-based testing system this year, said school district Superintendent Don Olson.

"In the old testing system there would be one right answer," Olson said, offering the example of a multiple-choice math problem involving reducing fractions to andfrac34;. "In the new testing system there might be six answers listed and four would be equal to andfrac34;."

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would discontinue the Standardized Testing and Reporting System, or STAR test, in order for schools to implement the new system, said Nancy Brownell, who is tasked by the California Department of Education to help local districts with the transition. Brownell met with Del Norte administrators and teachers Aug. 28.

Under Assembly Bill 484, roughly 600,000 students in California were going to be tested this year using the new system. But on Wednesday, the bill was amended to include 3.3 million California students in the pilot program, according to the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

The measure is now before the state Senate and is expected to be passed by Thursday, according to the CCSESA.

Farewell to bubbles

Instead of bubbling in answers on a multiple-choice test, most Del Norte County students will take the new test this year, Olson said. He said he expects to bring a rough draft of the plan for testing students under the Common Core to Thursday's School Board meeting.

Board members will also have a say in how the district spends $700,000 in extra state funding it received to implement the new standards, Olson said. That can be spent on instructional materials and supplies such as textbooks, professional development and technology since the new tests will be taken via computers.

"We're going to be investing in some technology via laptops and/or possibly some iPads," Olson said, adding that he will be asking the School Board to approve expenses of $150,000-$200,000 for new technology. "They work well for the Common Core Assessments. When a classroom literally takes the test we can take the technology to them."

The California Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, Brownell said. Governors and state superintendents in 44 states were involved in developing the new standards, she said. Forty-five states are in the process of implementing the standards, but local school boards still determine their district's curriculum and what their teachers do in the classroom, Brownell said.

The new testing system was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two federally funded consortiums that developed testing aligned to the Common Core, Brownell said. The tests will be computer-based and would ask students to do more writing, even in math, she said.

The new assessments target students from grades three through eight, as well as grade 11, Brownell said.

"Even third-graders have to read a piece of text, highlight the important ideas as indicated by a question and type text responses into a box based on what the questions are," she said. "In the mathematics area, yes you do need to do computations, (but) there's usually some narrative that goes with the problem."

At the elementary school level, teachers will focus more attention on informational texts rather than literature, said Connie Gilman, Del Norte's coordinator of elementary curriculum. Students will be doing close readings of texts and will then discuss what they read, she said.

New emphasis on 'why'

"There's going to be a lot of teachers allowing students to problem solve around a topic rather than just getting a right answer," Gilman said. "In math, it's not just about getting that the answer is 15 but talking about why you got that answer and what led you to think about it in that way. So kids are having a conversation about their thinking."

Elementary students will also be focused on writing across the curriculum, including informational writing, Gilman said. Also, in the Smarter Balanced Assessment program, students may be presented with a problem that has an error in it. The student's job will be to figure out where the error was made and what could have been done differently to solve the problem, Gilman said.

"The whole goal is the 21st century learner who can go out and be successful in a job," she said. "There's more emphasis on collaboration with kids. The technology piece (will) all be imbedded throughout math and reading and science and social studies, so that our second-graders need to be able to write a story on the computer. They need to be able to present something to their peers in an edited form."

Report cards will be different for parents with elementary school students. Gilman said the report cards have been reformatted to show parents their students' progress on each of the new Common Core Standards. Parents will get their first glimpse of the new report cards at parent-teacher conferences in October, she said.

At the high school level, students will not only have to give the correct answer on a test, they will also have to show why their answer is correct, said Del Norte High School Principal Coleen Parker. Students will also be doing much more instructional writing

In their English classes students will focus on a curriculum titled Expository Reading and Writing, Parker said. In addition to literature - the Common Core has a Shakespeare component - students will discuss real-life issues such as the prevalence of fast food, gender issues and bullying, she said. Students will also read and discuss excerpts from Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild."

"It's a much higher level of thinking," she said. "It's going to be a challenge for students, but we're hearing from employers that they want people who can think."

For more information about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and to view a practice test, visit

The Del Norte County Board of Trustees meets at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Education Center, 301 W. Washington Blvd., Crescent City.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at