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April 23, 2014

Roseville expects dip in test scores with Common Core start

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

ROSEVILLE — The Roseville school district is expecting a drop in school test scores as it moves to the more rigorous and different Common Core testing standards next spring.

The school board received a presentation April 14 about the controversial curriculum standards, which more than 40 states have adopted. According to Mark Blaszkowski, curriculum director at the school district, the fact that standards are so widespread has given states and local districts a lot more options on purchasing materials.

“By having this curriculum nationwide, resources expand to the point where you have multiple choices for materials to get you where you need to go,” Blaszkowski said. “Before this, (companies) focused on two states, Texas and California, because they’re big.”

Additionally, he said the standards help kids become better prepared for both careers and college, as opposed to older standards that focused more heavily on college preparation. Blaszkowski added that Common Core is not rigid, uniform curriculum across the board, but a framework that states can build off as long as they are meeting minimum requirements.

He said it focuses on covering less material overall but goes more in-depth on the material it does cover, along with raising expectations.

Assistant Superintendent Michael LaFeve said that on the flip side, since the testing is done with computers, it costs three to four times more money than the existing Michigan Educational Assessment Program test.

Additionally, schools without sizable computer labs — and indeed, students without computers at home — are at a disadvantage, as the school now needs to bring students up to speed on operating a computer, LaFeve said.

“I don’t think any of us disagree this is where we should get to, but the part they don’t acknowledge is that all kids come to our door differently, and in some of the larger urban areas, they don’t come with the resources and readiness to accept this,” LaFeve said. “This is a huge leap for our kids.”

On top of that, he said that changing tests always see scores drop, even without moving to a computerized system, just because the material is changing.

He said that while opponents of the standards cite a loss of local control, that is a moot point in Michigan.

“We lost that with proposal A,” LaFeve said. “There’s no local control anymore; it’s a top-down process.”

Blaszkowski said that all schools in Roseville have “the green light” for the upcoming tests. While Steenland Elementary and Fountain Elementary only have one computer lab each, they should be able to manage with proper scheduling, and LaFeve said students could be bused to the middle school to use its extra lab.

Only reading and math will be tested under the Common Core computer system in the spring, LaFeve said; science and social studies will still be on paper. Science standards still are being finalized, but he expected the state to have its social studies standards set for next year.

Blaszkowski said that the test is adaptive and will get harder or easier depending on if students get the answers correct or not. It will also get results from the tests back to schools much more quickly, which will be helpful for making adjustments to the curriculum.

Another bonus for the district, he said, is that unlike previous years, the assessment test will not be in the fall, meaning the school district does not have to scramble to bring students up to speed after summer break.

Superintendent John Kment noted that the high turnover rate for students in the district — due to families moving in and out of Roseville — is a problem, since it means Roseville is not going to have as much background preparation for students if they came from another district that did not do as well on its testing.

“Look at Huron Park (Elementary School) — there were 400 kids last year, and there’s 400 kids there now, but 200 of them are new this year,” Kment said. “The scores come back to the old district, so who are we training? And the kids are going on to other districts.”

Looking past the first spring 2015 testing date, LaFeve said the district would be able to offer collaborative lessons to students to help prepare for the tests — no help this coming year, he added — but closing that gap with students coming in from different educational backgrounds is key.

“No one can disagree high expectations are great, but when you have kids coming to you with deficiencies in academic skills, (teaching them) in the same amount of time as a kid who is already there? Talk about an unfunded mandate,” LaFeve said. “This is huge.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.