Mijares: New online assessments will produce detailed feedback to refine instruction

Last month marked the start of a new era for public school accountability, as students in Orange County and beyond began taking online state assessments in English and math.

These tests, which are being issued in grades three through eight and 11, are aligned with recent changes to California’s instructional standards, and they look quite different from the bubble-in-the-answer paper exams to which many of us have grown accustomed.

desk-of-al-smallIn fact, the newly established California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress uses computer-adaptive technology that adjusts questions based on right or wrong answers. Like the standards on which they’re based, these exams challenge students to think critically, draw conclusions and cite evidence. As a result, we expect to have more detailed information than we’ve ever had before to indicate which skills and content areas have been mastered.

These exams will give teachers and administrators the feedback they need to modify, refine and differentiate instruction, serving as an academic checkup for California’s schools. And because they’re computer-based, the results will be accessible more quickly than ever.

In recent years, California has instituted new standards, increased local control over funding and channeled more resources toward students with the greatest needs. These are impressive steps, forming the foundation of a comprehensive plan designed to help students thrive in college and in their careers. Naturally, it also makes sense to have measures in place to annually determine what students know and are able to do, thereby measuring the efficacy of our reform efforts.

Here in Orange County, district leaders are embracing the opportunity to utilize this data. Yet it’s important to note that the new state tests won’t initially allow for reliable year-to-year comparisons for the simple reason that they are so fundamentally different from previous versions. Instead, this year’s scores will establish a baseline for schools and districts to track progress over time.

We are, without question, witnessing a transformational shift in public education, one that will better prepare students for 21st-century challenges and fortify the American workforce by taking learning to a substantially deeper level. Naturally, some adjustments may be necessary, and even state officials are urging patience and persistence as we leverage new educational technologies and practices. But educators in Orange County and beyond are rightly recognizing the enormous potential of using these assessments to take instruction to the next level, and I would personally urge our families to assist by making sure local participation rates are strong.

This isn’t about quick fixes. This is about taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to improving both teaching and learning. Most important, it’s about maximizing our available resources to ensure the students of Orange County are well-positioned for college and career readiness and success.