On Campus: Ceres school leaves the old testing system on a high note

Posted by Nan Austin on November 27, 2013 

NA Nan blog 1

Adkison Elementary Principal Brian Murphy hands out attendance awards to the first grade class of Cynthia Starkweather, at left, in Ceres, Calif. on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. On the podium is the new banner that will be hung in the school cafeteria showing the school's 2013 progress in state testing.

NAN AUSTIN — naustin@modbee.com Buy Photo


    If you have a question about an education issue, email it to Nan Austin at naustin@modbee.com with your name and contact information. As many as possible will be answered in this column.

— Adkison Elementary in Ceres this week celebrated higher student achievement, good citizenship and great attendance. The kids leave the old state bubble tests on a high note, having pulled their collective chin 4 points over the 800-point bar set as the state goal for all schools.

“We were able to cross that threshold. We were one of five (Ceres schools) that had not made it yet,” said Principal Brian Murphy before an assembly at which the school received a banner proclaiming it met its state target from Ceres Unified Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Steve Fabela.

Fabela gave credit to parents’ help in meeting the goals. “We’re so proud of what the school is doing and all your involvement,” he told a crowd with nearly as many grown-ups as kids.

Adkison Elementary made steady progress over the eight years since its opening, always moving ahead a few points under the state system. This year, it met every federal target as well. The school’s 650 students are exactly the youngsters the No Child Left Behind Act promised to help – most are English learners, and almost all are poor.

No Child Left Behind demanded all schools pull up these students, as well as special-needs students and minorities, shining a spotlight on their progress. The goal was noble; the mechanism flawed; the process mired in politics. According to the act, which has long since expired, every one of the low-income children, English learners, kids with special needs and others should have reached grade level by next year.

That won’t happen – even at Adkison.

But much has been learned on the journey, including that a multiple-choice test does not measure the skills employers want. What will replace it in California will be an online test with sections of writing required and questions that have more than one right answer or – remember these? – none of the above.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment System will challenge kids to figure it out, like employers and colleges will in the years to come. Schools will get a no-pressure trial run this spring, thanks to a California mini-mutiny against the federal mandates.

This fall, the state suspended most of the old Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) assessments. Instead, 3 million California students will field-test the Smarter Balanced program in the spring, half taking the math portion and half taking the English section.

On the upside, schools will discover whether they have the tech chops to make it work. Students and teachers will get a taste of what’s coming. And the company gets a chance to find any bugs in the system or bad apples among its questions.

On the downside, no results of what amounts to a beta test will be publicly reported. All that accountability could disappear for a year, which has advocates and the U.S. Department of Education up in arms.

That’s what the grown-ups will have to sort out. Wednesday morning at Adkison, kids picked by teachers as stars of the month got to eat pancakes with the principal. Those with terrific attendance or good citizenship accepted a certificate and were applauded by their peers and their parents. The school as a whole took a bow for clearing the 800-point hurdle.

“It’s the day before Thanksgiving and we have a lot to be thankful for,” Murphy told the crowd.

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