Local education officials are ramping up for the implementation of a new testing system designed to better align with new Common Core teaching curriculum.
Third- through eighth- and 11th-graders across the county will soon begin taking the Smarter Balanced tests, which are designed to replaced the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, assessments.
Smarter Balanced assessments test students' knowledge in language arts and mathematics based on Common Core standards, which are taught throughout all state public schools and require students to use critical thinking and analytical skills to work through problems.
Gary Waddell, deputy superintendent in the county Office of Education, praised the new testing system and the way it challenged students to use skills that would benefit them in their pursuit of higher education and a career.
"The test is a definite improvement in a number of ways," he said. "It is a much deeper measure of what students know and are able to do."
Nancy Magee, spokeswoman for the county Office of Education, said the Smarter Balanced assessments test students on real world problem-solving techniques.
"The test is moving away from five possible right answers, to critical solutions and critical thinking about how did students get to their answer," she said.
Smarter Balanced assessments were field tested last year, and are conducted on a computer, moving away from the pencil and paper method that STAR tests have employed for years.
"The students are really having to think differently, because this hasn't been the way they've taken tests," Magee said.
Local students who took the new assessment last year said they had to adjust the way they think while taking tests, she said.
"The response from students on the actual test was 'wow, that was kind of hard.' It is a different kind of rigor and moving kids away from the thought that they are driving themselves for the right answer, and focusing more on thinking through the information," she said.
Magee said the students should be quicker to adjust to the testing program, as they become more familiar with Common Core standards, which focus more on the use of technology in the classroom and projects.
Waddell said some school districts in the county may have already begun testing, but was unsure of how many districts have finished.
Schools in San Mateo County will have until May 29 to complete the new tests, and scores will be available shortly after, according to a report from the county Office of Education.
The scores from the test this year will set the benchmark for achievement, and future scores will be compared to the results.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, in a prepared statement, warned that the new test scores should not be compared against scores from the STAR exam.
"The new tests are too different from the old exams to make reliable comparisons between old scores and new," Torlakson said. "This year's test results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time."
Magee said local districts last year were largely successful in rolling out the new tests, and implementing the technology required to conduct them.
"The technology wasn't necessarily as complicated as we thought it may have been," she said. "Districts did pretty well sorting through their technological issues."