Common Core- What’s the Deal?

Parents, teachers, students, and schools in California are in a state of frenzy because the questions are mounting:  What’s the deal with Common Core? What is the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium)? Why weren’t we told sooner? Why are our students boycotting exams or literally throwing up because of the intense, high pressure atmosphere to perform well? Why aren’t districts and teachers prepared? Why were parents informed, in many cases, just two weeks prior to this new standardized test?

Let’s take a deep breath because at this point, there is no need to panic. There are three essentials to know that will restore parents to sanity.

This year’s SBAC, like its predecessor the CST, will not have bearing on college acceptance.

At least not yet. The SBAC was administered last year as a “field test” or test of the test only to a select group of California schools, and neither the results nor the questions were released. This year, although the results will supposedly be released to the public, the SBAC is still scrambling to find “graders,” many of whom are likely unqualified, to score written sections of the exam. The good news- colleges didn’t request CST scores and they’re not requesting SBAC scores. A combination of SAT/ ACT scores, quality college applications and GPA is still the primary determinant of college acceptance and success.

Parents can prepare, somewhat, with students online.

SBAC practice questions are available online athttp://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/.

1. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, click on “Student Interface: Practice and Training Tests,” and sign in as the preset guest.

2. Then, select the appropriate grade level and all of the preset information on the following pages.

3. Once you choose, “Yes, Start My Test,” you’ll begin with question #1 presented on the screen. Once finished, move your cursor to the top left and click next to move to question #2.

4. You must answer every question, or you will not be able to move on.

5. There are some nonsensical pitfalls: the ELA sections don’t always work (the audio, if malfunctioning, will not grant you access to the test) and your results for these practice tests aren’t available. What’s that you say? Yes, you can take the test, but you will not get a score. You and your child can only familiarize yourselves with the testing interface and question types, but will have no reference to test performance.

Curriculum is coming, albeit, painstakingly slowly.

At a snail’s pace, but Common Core curriculum is on the move, no thanks to the SBAC. While the test makers provide example questions, student responses, and performance tasks to teachers and districts, the assignments themselves must be generated by educators. This is a tedious and time consuming process because we have to piecemeal various texts, video clips, and graphic media together to create the documents that accompany the SBAC tasks. In some cases, we actually have to write the articles or short stories that serve as sources. However, there are an increasing number of free resources available online while schools get it together.

Creditable websites such as  http://www.k12reader.com/ allow parents to download a wealth of reading comprehension, spelling, writing, and grammar worksheets and projects that provide answer keys. While we nervously wait for the curriculum to catch up to the exam, parents can get a head start at home. Reading with your child at home, discussing why something is happening in a story or newspaper article, and getting to know the SBAC portal are a start!

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