School district adapts to new standards; will offer a prototype test

Parents, students and teachers have been hearing about Common Core State Standards for some time.Stickney

But the near-nationwide changes to curriculum and standardized testing are taking root in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District this year.

Common Core is a multi-state-led initiative, including formal testing, that is designed to create consistent academic standards nationwide. It will be implemented fully in the 2014-15 school year. WL-WV teachers already are training and adapting curriculum to meet Common Core standards in English language arts and math.

Local effects

“Common Core will be evident every day and in every classroom,” Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said. Teachers will attend school- and district-wide meetings to learn about Common Core and how to implement it. The district’s language arts teachers met at West Linn High School the week of Aug. 12, Stickney said, and math teachers also have met to discuss Common Core.

“It’s about teaching. And along with it will come a test,” Stickney said.

Based on Common Core standards, the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium standardized testing in English/language arts and math will begin in the spring of 2015. SBAC will replace Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, although OAKS will remain in place this school year.

In WL-WV this year, groups of students will participate in an unofficial version of SBAC. The district’s Educational Service District is preparing a prototype of the SBAC writing assessment so teachers can practice taking it themselves and then learn to score it.

“That’s part of implementing the Common Core,” Stickney said, “helping teachers understand the rubric on which children are scored.”

In the 2013-14 school year, students in grades four, seven and 10 will be given the prototype assessment. Only the writing assessment for those grades will be affected. Students in other grades will take the OAKS test.

Differencesby: FILE PHOTO - Schools throughout the West Linn-Wilsonville School District will begin noticing implementation of Common Core standards, with students in grades four, seven and 10 being assessed on them.

Small groups of students at Wilsonville High School and Bolton Primary participated in a state pilot of the SBAC test last year. Although the state did not share the students’ test results with the district, participating in the pilot program gave administrators a glimpse of how the test might look when it does roll out.

“It was very long and it was very different” from the OAKS assessment, Stickney said, “with very different kinds of questions.” Students adapted to the test with ease, she said, in part, perhaps, because they knew their results would not be official.

“It is a longer test, and it is one sitting,” Stickney said. Students now can take up to 45 days to complete OAKS in several sittings.

“It is probably most different in the way it constructs tasks,” Stickney said.

As an example, she said that the OAKS writing test might offer students three prompts, instructing them to write using one. The SBAC test might give three “inputs,” according to Stickney, such as an essay, a short video and an article. Students will view or read all three, answer a series of questions and then write their own piece, incorporating what they just learned.

SBAC will incorporate more writing in all areas than OAKS does, such as by calling for a short, written answer to a math question. SBAC also will require more interaction with what’s on the computer. Test takers would draw a right triangle instead of selecting one from a list of choices, for example.

OAKS is administered to students in third, eighth and 11th-grade. Eleventh-graders are able to take the test up to three times, and the test can be used to meet graduation requirements. Students in grades three to eight can take OAKS twice.

SBAC will be given to students in grades three to 12 only once per year.

However, the way SBAC is administered, what will be on it and how it will be graded could change because it remains under development, said Linda Brown, Teachers Standards and Practices Commission member. The state will notify school districts when they have more pilot tests available, with the state selecting which districts and schools will participate.


Concerns have been raised that states may lack sufficient funding for training and curriculum. Another potential issue is that standardized testing scores may drop in Oregon, something that has happened in districts that have adapted Common Core standards ahead of the deadline.

For example, The New York Times reported on Aug. 7 that schools in New York City had seen dramatic drops, with 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade in 2012-13 passing the test in English and 30 percent in math. Last year, using a different test, 47 percent of students in that district passed in English and 60 percent passed in math.

Other states are expressing concerns about Common Core’s rapidly approaching deadlines for implementation. In WL-WV, Stickney predicted that the district would be ready. However, she said, one important element has yet to be sorted out.

“Every child needs to spend three to five hours taking a test at the same time,” she said.

Curtis Nelson, the district’s information technology director, is currently assessing both the district’s needs and its assets.

Referring again to the example of the writing assessment where students view three resources, such as a video, an article and an essay, Stickney questioned whether the district could continue to rely on the mini-laptops, known as netbooks, that are available in each school. Students looking at multiple pieces of data might require a larger screen than the netbooks offer.

“(Nelson) is looking at that. What are the technology requirements? What do we need to pull it off? We’re probably not in as bad shape as others,” she said.

Although Stickney expressed confidence in the district’s readiness to embrace Common Core, she also acknowledged its challenges.

“It’s like we have been playing the game of basketball for the past 15 years and now they’re asking us to play lacrosse,” Stickney said. “We’re going to be as ready as we can.”

Common Core history

The District of Columbia, 45 states and four U.S. territories agreed to use Common Core to spell out what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should understand and be able to do in math and reading. Another goal is to improve academic performance and ready students for college and the workforce upon graduation.

States will test students with SBAC or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, which is similar to SBAC but does not include computer adaptive technology. It “adjusts to a student’s ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers,” the SBAC website states.

Experts in the fields of math and English/language arts, including teachers, helped shape the Common Core standards.

The Oregon Board of Education adopted the math and English/language arts standards in late 2010.

Common Core standards have not been adopted in Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Texas or Virginia.

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— Reporter Jillian Daley contributed to this story.

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