Discovering what your children are learning in school can be an eye-opening experience. Just ask Max Fowler and his wife, Vanessa.
The Fowlers, whose children attend Lanakila Elementary, participated in the school’s Smarter Balanced Parent Night in November. They wanted to be present to support their two daughters, grades 3 and 5, who will join thousands of public school students taking the new Smarter Balanced assessments in math and English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) this spring.
To better prepare children for the higher demands of college and careers, public schools introduced new standards and assessments. Standards are the guidelines for the skills and knowledge kids should possess at each grade level. Schools and teachers choose curriculum, and determine how to teach the standards in the classroom. Assessments measure whether students are learning what they need to know to succeed.
The Smarter Balanced assessment is aligned to the Hawaii Common Core: learning standards that were implemented statewide during the 2013-14 school year. The Smarter Balanced assessments in math and ELA, for grades 3 through 8 and 11, replace the old Hawaii State Assessments. The new assessments have three components:
- Computer Adaptive Test: An online adaptive test that provides an individualized assessment for each student.
- Classroom Activity: A group exercise, usually lasting about 30 minutes, meant to provide context and familiarize all students with an upcoming Performance Task.
- Performance Task: Tasks that challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to respond to real-world problems. They can best be described as collections of questions and activities that are coherently connected to a single theme or scenario.
It's expected that the change to the new test and standards will result in a drop in scores as compared with previous years. Lower test scores do not mean students are performing any worse — because these are newer, higher expectations for student learning. Results from this year are a new starting point. In other words, it is reasonable to compare 2015 scores with next year's scores (same assessment), but not with last year's HSA scores.
Schools across the state are holding Smarter Balanced Parent Nights to educate them on the change. Fowler described the event at Lanakila Elementary as “amazing.”
“We were given a great overall presentation about what changes from the previous year we could expect; how to help our children prepare for the new, upcoming test; and actually got to take a practice test that our children will be taking,” recalled Fowler.
Actually taking the test came as a surprise, Fowler admits. He said he was expecting more of an informational briefing from staff, and tips to help motivate their children.
Instead, Fowler sat with his older daughter while his wife took the test with their third-grader.
“It took our complete concentration, and my wife and I didn't expect it to be as difficult as it was,” says Fowler. “We had a lot of fun as our children were egging us on to do well!”
Lanakila Principal Katherine Balatico was surprised at the enthusiastic showing from parents. She says the idea to hold a parent night came from her teachers.
“As a faculty, we decided it was important that our parents need to be aware of the increased rigor of the Smarter Balanced assessments,” said Lanakila teacher Carol Kim. “As a result, the Smarter Balanced Parent Night was organized to help our families better understand the expectations from the test, teachers and our school.”
More than 150 parents attended, which is quite a strong showing considering that represents almost a quarter of the students who will be taking the test at the school.
“I heard one parent say she had to reward her child with a Zippy’s meal because she had no idea how difficult the test was going to be,” Balatico said.
Kim says the change is an “exciting transition” that gives students more exposure to technology skills and knowledge. Kim’s students shared with her that they felt good about showing their parents how hard they are working in school.
And the parent night has already made an impact on those parents who attended the Lanakila event. This school year, the Fowlers look forward to helping their kids at home. They know the important role that parents play in helping their kids.
“We want to make sure that our children know that they need to read carefully and slowly,” said Fowler. “The correct answers were somewhat similar to the incorrect answers, so they have to really check and double check their work.”
In January, the Department provided parents additional information about the new standards and assessments, which included advice on supporting students at home — see below:
More information can be found on the Smarter Balanced Assessment page.