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Reporter ‘farewell’ to Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 17th, 2015 at 9:25 pm in Education.

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It is with mixed feelings that I say “goodbye” to the Contra Costa Times and Bay Area News Group as I move on to a position as a reporter for EdSource.

I have enjoyed my 15 years with the company, where I have had the privilege of covering the cities of Benicia, Concord, Clayton, Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, along with the Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa school districts. Contra Costa County is filled with interesting people and places.

I will miss the watchdog reporting I have done in the Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa districts, as well as the interviews and features I’ve written about Hometown Heroes and interesting programs.

However, I am excited by the opportunity to cover the Common Core standards as a reporter for EdSource Today, an online publication operated by the nonprofit education information organization EdSource. I hope to continue covering people and schools in Contra Costa and the East Bay, as well as Northern California, focusing on this new beat.

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a recent news release that more than 3 million students in California have been tested under the state’s new online California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, computer-adaptive system.

“Along with new rigorous state academic standards, improved school funding, and more local control, CAASPP is helping us transform education and better prepare California students for college and careers in the 21st century,” he said in a prepared statement. “As this year’s assessment season draws to a close, I am pleased that overall it has gone very smoothly.”

The state piloted the tests last year and gave school districts extra money for technology and training to help transition to the “real deal” this spring. Although the state intends to release scores to parents and districts in the next few months, it does not plan to use them to create the familiar Academic Performance Index, or API scores, which the public has relied on in the past to compare schools.

Instead, the state has suspended these accountability ratings while a new accountability system is created.

Torlakson and school district leaders throughout the state have warned that the new scores will likely be lower than results seen in the past because the tests are more rigorous and assess critical thinking, analytical writing and problem-solving skills.

“Many, if not most, students will need to make significant progress to reach the standards set for math and literacy that accompany college and career readiness,” according to the news release.

Districts expect to receive Student Score Reports eight weeks after their testing windows closed at the end of this past school year. Within 20 days of receiving the scores, districts are expected to mail the reports to students’ homes.

School, district and state test results will also be posted on the state Department of Education’s website by late summer or early fall.

“No one should be discouraged by the scores,” Torlakson said. “They can help guide discussions among parents and teachers and help schools adjust instruction to meet student needs.”

Student scores will range from 1,000 to 3,000, corresponding to the achievement levels: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met, and standard not met.

Since the computer-adaptive technology adjusts questions based on each student’s answer, parents will not be given the number of questions asked or the number that were answered correctly or incorrectly. They will also not be given a percentile ranking showing how their students’ scores compare to the scores of other students at the same grade level statewide.

More information about the new tests is at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ca.

You can follow my future coverage of the Common Core at http://edsource.org.

This newspaper plans to assign another reporter to take over the education beat. In the meantime, contact editor Cecily Burt at cburt@bayareanewsgroup.com with education tips and questions.

Thanks for 15 great years!

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