Superintendent's Message, April 13, 2015

  • Dr. Cohn
    Dear Everett Public Schools community members:
    In February our teachers and students began taking the new Smarter Balanced assessment (SBA) practice tests to get ready for the new tests beginning April 14. As far back as September, teachers and students have been learning together how to use Chromebooks for these new online assessments.

    Just what are the SBA tests; how are they different?
    The SBA replaces the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) and High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE) given each spring in Washington schools since 2010. (Before 2010, the state tests were called the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.)

    This spring, all third- through eighth-grade students and high school juniors will take the SBA in math and English language arts. Sophomores will take the English language arts SBA.

    The Smarter Balances assessments are different in two major ways
    1. Students take SBA on computers. Each test is thus “personalized” to match and measure each student’s academic learning. Students begin with less challenging questions and progress to more difficult ones, depending upon previous responses. The accuracy and depth of responses determine whether a tested student’s learning is “below,” “at” or “above” standard in that subject and grade.
    2. The SBA is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which outline what students should know and be able to do – no matter what school or school district they attend or what teacher they have. Washington State is one of 18 states in the country to use the SBA to ensure all students have access to high quality learning and instruction and can demonstrate that learning.
    A special SBA benefit for high school juniors!
    Juniors who earn a 3 or 4 on their SBA this spring can use those scores to eliminate taking remedial college courses in those subjects. This unique and beneficial agreement is for any of Washington State’s 34 community and technical colleges, any of the public baccalaureate institutions, and nine independent colleges in Washington. Every high school junior in the state received a letter from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Student Achievement Council. This letter urged those juniors to do their best on the SBA this spring. Their high school SBA scores this spring could save them the time and cost of remedial courses two years from now.

    How has the district been preparing for these new tests?

    Teachers in our schools have been systematically learning about and preparing for CCSS for more than two years.

    Thanks to voter approval of the 2010 Building Repair & Technology Levy, the district deployed 3,400 Chromebooks to our 26 elementary, middle and high schools. Since last fall, we have been improving wireless networks to ensure that each student will have access on test days.

    Last summer the teaching and learning staff produced hundreds of hours of training, including online videos and face-to-face classes for teachers and support staff. These classes involve everything from Chromebook basics to learning to infuse technology into daily instruction.

    The district assessment department’s webpage includes videos and links to practice tests to give you a taste of what students are experiencing this year. The April 4, 2015 Daily Herald front page story carried valuable, in-depth information about the new assessments. The article included parent thoughts after attending one of the dozens of “road show” demonstrations held at each of our 26 schools by district assessment department staff. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction also recently released a statement about the new assessments.

    I have been inspired by what I see in classrooms around our district as teachers and students open up Chromebooks and dive into challenging subjects and fascinating learning experiences. While many of us would be more comfortable with paper and pen, students tell us that taking tests on a computer is much more engaging than “those old tests.” All of this preparation is aimed at ensuring our students will be prepared to show what they know and can do on this new assessment, and how we can further improve teaching and learning as a result.
    Warm wishes,
    Gary Cohn,