Goodbye benchmarks, hello PBAS

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Education as we have known it will no longer be the same.  For many students, the beginning of grade school meant being purposefully prepared for multiple choice tests, where the ability to recognize the right answer amongst all other options is key for the success for both the student and the school; but that’s changing, starting now. Many states have adopted a new set of national standards as part of the Common Core State Standard Initiative, and the SalinasUnionHighSchool District is taking part in piloting the change.

While testing will still be a part of the Common Core (as well as some multiple choice), the tests in all subject areas will count on student produced responses. This is where the new set of assessments or Performance Based Assessments (PBAs) come in to replace the benchmarks and pure multiple choice tests.  According to Assistant Principal Christina Parker who’s in charge of testing at Alisal, the PBAs are new assessments that will be done on computers rather than in booklets.

While this is a great idea for the digital age, the reality doesn’t quite match up due to most schools lack of computers.  That means the administration of the tests may still be on pencil and paper, at least in the first year. Principal Ernesto Garcia said the school ordered about three hundred Google Chrome books and while he was hoping to have them this semester, we may not receive them because of the demand outweighs the supply.

So, until further notice specific arrangements have been made for each subjects’ test administration.  For instance, freshman English teacher Jane Albano said the PBA’s will contain a Video/document, class discussion, and a student activity leading to an essay, but that some teachers may use the computers for this administration, if some bugs can be worked out. For science, Mrs. Lynn, freshman biology representative, said the science assessments will contain: reading an informational text, answering selected responses, creating constructed responses and lastly application questions, in which the goal is to apply into “real-world” situations, which will also not be computerized.

Assistant Principal Christina Parker said that mathematics will include an informational text, a model and a product of a written response by the student and model depending on the type of question. In the case of mathematics, it has yet not been decided how the administration will take place. Last year Parker ran the pilot for math’s PBA’s with all freshmen students and Alisal was the only school to meet the required number of trial students. Parker, said, ‘I am proud of us being the only actual school in the district to meet the  goal of student testers and I am glad the process was smooth even if it was a large amount of  students whom we had testing’.

Any PBA’s we perform this year are only part of our pilot and are being evaluated with the purpose of finding mistakes and perhaps adding standards or any other possible corrections. This pilot is occurring throughout this year. Starting next year and on the PBA’s will be a permanent and ongoing assessment.

This transition from multiple choice examinations to computerized thought constructed assessments will take time. All school officials, teachers and representatives hope for a smooth transition and ask for patience from both students and teachers.

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