On Oct. 24, the California Department of Education released the results of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, according to a press release from the Berkeley Unified School District.
As reported in the press release, the data highlights student test performance in the 2021-22 school year. Going forward, BUSD will use both local and future data to develop a comprehensive understanding of student performance and will use these results to inform instruction and improve student outcomes.
“The Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) is a common assessment used in California to measure how students perform in English and math,” said Keldon Clegg, Academic Choice (AC) teacher and coordinator at Berkeley International High School (BIHS). “There’s a similar assessment in science, but it’s not technically part of the SBA.”
According to Cassandra Tesch, Dean of BHS, the scores collected on this test are used by the district to assess performance in math and English and to inform the school how to set goals to help students improve . “You would do the SBA several years in a row and see if your results change from year to year,” Clegg said, adding Tesch. “That’s the primary way it’s used, and for BHS we use the SBA primarily to measure our writing in ninth and eleventh grade.”
Students can use their SBA scores for the Early Assessment Program, which states that if students are proficient in the designated subjects, they will no longer need to take core English and math courses in their freshman year, according to Ruth Steele-Brown. the director of Berkeley Research, Evaluation and Assessment.
However, some students, including Molly McLean, a senior in AC, do not consider these tests necessary or useful because they do not improve students’ grades or academics.
“Why waste a lesson on something that doesn’t count?” McLean said. “They would rather have the time to study other things.”
She added that the tests do not reflect students’ abilities because students have different learning styles and the tested material is not treated in the same way in class.
Thouati de Tazoult echoed this opinion, stating that the disadvantage of these tests is that they do not test what students can achieve in the real world, only what they can complete in a few hours.
“I can write a decent essay in an hour, but no one writes an essay in an hour,” said Thouati de Tazoult. “I want to know what I can write in a week.”
However, Clegg argued that the test had some value, saying students may find it useful to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, an award a twelfth grade student can receive based on knowledge and achievement. According to the California Department of Education website, the State Seal of Biliteracy is represented by a gold seal on a student’s transcript or diploma that recognizes high school seniors who have achieved a high level of proficiency in speaking, writing, and reading one or more languages besides English. “It’s hard to know how the data actually impacts us or matters because of the rate of engagement,” Clegg said. “Because we didn’t have a lot of turnout, the data wasn’t very helpful… There are so many data points that can be used to measure or look at student success. It’s not often referred to as one that we use because we’re not sure how reliable it is.” Clegg also explained that teachers don’t know the content being tested, so the SBA ratings don’t tell them which specific ones they’re using Topics students struggle the most. However, general patterns for a whole group of students on a broader topic could still uncover larger issues for teachers to explore, he added.
In addition, Tesch explained how notorious standardized tests are for the blind spots and biases that come with them. She stressed the importance of students understanding that the tests only measure specific learning outcomes. Tesch also reflected on educational differences and the role that SBA and other evaluations play in highlighting them. She added that student satisfaction with question types and testing style affects their results, which is determined by the practice resources available to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. She described the importance of giving all students the opportunity to try the practice tests for free on the SBA website. “Just performance at SBA goes deeper than this test alone. We need to look at overall student engagement in school, student attendance, and student access to resources that prepare them for academic success,” Tesch said.