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First implemented last year, the Common Core testing system has already generated plenty of discussion. The exam is administered in both English and Math via computer over a school day strictly devoted to the test. A set of concretely defined academic standards, the test emphasizes critical thinking in both areas.

Results have already been released from last year, when juniors completed the computerized test in the spring. According to the CA Department of Education, 62% of M-A’s current seniors met or surpassed the standard in English and 45% in math. Most local elementary school districts scored in the high 80 or low 90th percentiles on both subjects, with the exception of Ravenswood whose students scored in the mid teens. Even though the M-A percentages are low, Instructional Vice-Principal Steven Lippi informed me that they are above California’s state average. Across all grade levels in the state, 44% of the 3 million tested met or exceeded the English standard while 33% met or exceeded the math standard.

Because of its novelty and distinct answer system, the Common Core posed certain problems to students at M-A last year. Many were unaccustomed to completing the test on a computer, especially in math. Furthermore, the numerous short-answer and essay questions also posed a challenge to students used to the standard multiple choice of the STAR test. The test forces students to give answers as statements and to think deeply about how they respond to the multi-step question at hand. Creators of the Common Core Smarter Balanced test had crafted this style with the goal to improve students’ critical thinking. According to Lippi, this year the school will focus on working with students and teachers to better understand and prepare for the Common Core in 2016. Beyond individual concerns, there were no major technology errors of the testing system.

Lippi explained that last year’s percentages have not been thoroughly analyzed because it was only the first year of the system. When asked if the Common Core accurately reflect students’ proficiency, Lippi responded that it is questionable because the test is still so young. He continued that the system needs to be used for a couple years before administrators can see solid results. After some years, trends can be identified and government officials can begin improvements.

Lippi hopes that in the future the test will accurately reflect students’ proficiency in the long run because it pushes students to find an answer and then take it a step further. However, many students come to M-A at very different levels, which makes it difficult to administer one uniform test. Students from certain middle districts such as Ravenswood City Elementary are constantly found at a disadvantage, often because of inadequate funding at their previous schools. In class, assessments and practice tests are given to students beforehand in an attempt to aid them when it comes to the actual test. For example, the content of an Algebra II course stays the same, but the answers will change in the Common Core Test.

Overall, Lippi says that the Common Core worked well. If a student did not finish the exam in the given time, they were called about a month later to return and complete the test when there were no distractions on campus to stop them from attaining the best results possible. The Common Core test forces students to expand their critical thinking skills as they complete problems in both English and Math. While many have criticized the new system, Lippi and others feel that it it will benefit students in the long run.

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