An Interview with Principal Eva Luna, California
As spring comes into view, classrooms across the country are preparing for state assessments. For decades, sharpening pencils and paper practice tests have been strategic for awakening students to the testing season. This year, many states are transitioning to online assessments and creating new strategies in order to overcome obstacles associated with these new computer-based assessments.
Our Stride Academy Customer Experience Specialist, Cate Powell, had the privilege of speaking with Eva Luna, Principal at Yolo Middle School in Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District in California, to talk about the challenges of testing season and how her staff is staying positive in preparing for upcoming assessments.
Stride Academy: What are some of the common obstacles or challenges you face every year when it comes time for test preparation?
Principal Luna: This year is the first operational administration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), so Yolo has been preparing for the transition from taking the California Standards Tests (CSTs) to the SBAC. In addition to the Common Core Standards transition, there are other obstacles in the transition from paper and pencil tests to an online format. One of the first obstacles we faced is making sure that our students are computer literate. They are tech-advanced, but using technology in an academic setting is very different than playing Minecraft. Students must know and understand the terminology used in testing, like “drag and drop” or “highlight and click.” They must also be able to access the computerized tools that are part of the SBAC. This requires our teachers to go over the terminology and tools used in the tests and help make the connections clear for all students.
Stride Academy: What is the mindset of your students during this time?
Principal Luna: This window of time is challenging for teachers because they feel the intensity and pressure of state testing and want students to perform well. Students are intuitive and feel the intensity as well. We really want to get away from heightening intensity because our teachers are working hard on student’s technology skills and engaging in standards based instruction all year long. Since this is our first year using the SBAC, there is heightened anxiety because there is a sense of “this test counts”, and we don’t have a baseline already established to be able to show growth. We will have to rely on other forms of data for that.
Stride Academy: For this reason, it is important to check mastery on state standards periodically throughout the school year using tools like the Progress Monitoring Assessments. Custom-made interim assessments created in the Quiz Builder app are also valuable.
Stride Academy: How do you alleviate test anxiety?
Principal Luna: This year when the SBAC interim tests were released, we met with teachers and coordinated a time for them to administer these tests to students. It was a valuable opportunity for teachers and students to gain a broader sense of all the aspects of the test. The more familiar the students and teachers are with it, the less anxiety occurs. Students are already online and use the internet, but there is a big difference between getting online and being able to effectively take an assessment online. Overall, we already know the SBAC has a high level of rigor to it. We want students to be familiar with what things look like when they are being tested and to see similar questions that will appear on the test. When they are familiar with these aspects of the technology-based assessment, they can spend their test-taking time more wisely, focusing on close reading of the academic texts and questions. Using practice tests (interim tests, block tests) that closely resemble the SBAC give students a sense of what the real thing is like.
Stride Academy: Stride Academy offers Technology Enhanced Items Types that directly mirror those item types utilized on the SBAC tests, PARCC, ACT Aspire, STAAR and other technology-based assessments, providing that essential practice. The TEI formats include: Drag and Drop, Evidence-Based Selected Response (Part A/Part B), Multiple Selected Response, Drop-down Menus, Written Response, Highlight Text, Plotting Points, True/False and Ordering.
Stride Academy: Prior to test dates, do you explain the purpose of the tests and how the results will be used?
Principal Luna: I am planning to have conversations with students in their classrooms to explain what the tests mean for our school and for them. I want to focus on the bigger picture of why these tests are important and how that narrows down to them individually. After we take our tests, I plan to meet with various stake holders to share our results, discuss areas that need attention and develop a plan to address those needs. We may also use the data to determine class placement, more specifically if a child needs a support class.
Stride Academy: Do your teachers find it a challenge to integrate test preparation without sacrificing their classroom instructional plan?
Principal Luna: No. Our curriculum at Yolo is standards based. The Common Core is focused and outlines the knowledge and concepts we need to address. Right now, we may not know the exact number of questions each standard will have on the SBAC tests, but our teachers know the important skills that every student needs to know. They plan and prepare from the very beginning of the year. We realize that teachers won’t have all the material covered by test taking time, but they are not teaching to a test. They do not “cram” for the test but prepare students all year long with standards based day to day teaching.
Stride Academy: Does it help to have an online-program that is accessible after school hours to assist with test preparation?
Principal Luna: Yes! We use Stride Academy in our site based After School Program. We also run contests for students to challenge them to use Stride Academy on the longer breaks from school (winter recess, spring recess, etc.). Stride Academy use supports students in the acquisition of standards based skills and knowledge. Students using Stride Academy on their own time is a good thing!
Stride Academy: How will you use Stride Academy to support test preparation this year?
Principal Luna: Stride Academy fills a lot of niches and helps identify areas where students need help. We make Stride Academy part of our daily routine and continue to find ways to generate more interest and time on it. Teachers have stressed to their students the importance of doing well on Stride Academy in order to provide useful data. We use Stride Academy as a support tool, and it helps support the acquisition of skills and knowledge that students need to progress to more rigorous academics.
We would love for you and your school to weigh in on the challenges of test preparation, and how you are using Stride Academy to help. To share your story, please email Cate Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org.