“We hear this phrase that we are preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist today.
We are truly doing some groundbreaking work.”
While teaching 9th grade years ago, Shelbi Cole noticed many of her students arrived in her class lacking the necessary foundational math skills and understanding of key concepts.
“There is a very real new skillset that is required for students to be successful,” she says, adding that students are “moving away from memorizing formulas to understanding the reasoning and logic of solving problems.”
Today, Cole is the deputy director of content for the Smarter Balanced assessments, which are designed to demonstrate knowledge — as opposed to just choosing answers from a list. Smarter Balanced replaces the former Hawaii State Assessments (HSA) this spring. Cole was in Hawaii in January to help conduct training for school and district staff, covering everything from test administration and coordination to interpreting student results.
Smarter Balanced assessments in English Language Arts/Literacy and Math for grades 3-8 and 11 are aligned to the new Hawaii Common Core standards, which define what students should know at each grade to graduate ready for college and careers. (Anyone can take the computer adaptive test for a spin — visit the Statewide Assessment Program portal and sign in as a guest.)
The assessments will measure not only what students know, but also how well they can apply their knowledge in real-world situations.
“We hear this phrase that we are preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist today,” Cole told educators on Maui. “We are truly doing some groundbreaking work.”
Brian Reiter, administrator of the DOE’s assessment section, walked attendees through high-tech features of the Smarter Balanced assessments — expandable text passages, a zooming tool, an on-screen notepad, a digital highlighter, and the ability for students to pause the tests. The assessments also have a spell check that provides a drop-down menu with a list of words – not all of them correct – for students to select.
“It’s important for students to learn these new tools prior to taking the summative assessments,” Reiter said.
The recent trainings are the latest tune-up for Hawaii’s public schools, which have been preparing for the assessment transition for some time now. Last year, Hawaii students took a “bridge” assessment that included items aligned with new standards (Common Core) and former standards (Hawaii Content Performance Standards). Additionally, students at nearly 100 schools participated in a Smarter Balanced field test, a sort of practice run to ensure questions are valid, reliable and fair to all children. Schools also have had the opportunity to conduct practice and training tests this school year.
“We want the system, students and teachers to be ready, but we don't want to overburden them with extra work and time away from instruction,” said Steve Franz, principal of Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina. The school has been testing its internet capacity to avoid any glitches on days students take the real assessments, he added.
Franz noted it will be important to remind parents and the community that student results this year will create a new baseline; it is expected the change to new standards and assessments will likely lead to lower scores. Supt. Kathryn Matayoshi has written letters to parents explaining that “results from this year are a new starting point.”
“Teachers and administrators have been working hard to support all children as they learn to problem solve, be a team member, communicate and think critically – all the skills colleges and employers will be looking for once your child graduates,” Matayoshi wrote.
It’s reasonable to compare test results from this year with next year’s results (same assessments), as opposed to comparing them with previous years.
Families who want to learn more about how to support their children through this transition are encouraged to visit our Family Resources page.