Published Online: September 2, 2014

Oregon students face tough test this school year

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — More than 500,000 students return to school in Oregon this week, and their parents will need to add a phrase to their own vocabulary as a new test rolls out this school year — Smarter Balanced.

The rigorous exam of reading, math, writing, listening, research and thinking skills will be given next spring to students in third through eighth grades and to high school juniors. Officials have yet to determine the test's passing score, but results will be used to determine whether students are on track and how Oregon schools are performing, The Oregonian reported Sunday (http://is.gd/IsmW4D ).

Though the exam is new, the change has been in motion since 2008, when a business-driven coalition persuaded most governors and state school leaders that U.S. schools had set their reading, math and writing standards too low for students to compete in the global economy, the newspaper reported.

That's how the Common Core State Standards were born. Oregon was one of the first states to adopt the standards, and more than 40 states later followed. Old tests couldn't measure how well schools are teaching the tougher standards, so that's where Smarter Balanced comes in.

Teachers in most Portland-area districts have been changing their methods to familiarize students with the demands of the test.

Brooke O'Neill, curriculum director in the David Douglas School District, told the newspaper that teachers have been preparing for more than a year. Teachers last year gave students practice versions of the most difficult part of the reading and writing test — a multi-part question requiring an hour or more to answer.

Teachers are creating assignments that have students practice what the test will ask of them — read two or more articles, passages or charts, then write a position paper that cites evidence from the articles.

The math section will require students to know correct terminology, explain their reasoning and show their steps to solve long problems.

Bethel Aster, a third-grade teacher at Durham Elementary in Tigard, said she will have students practice difficult math assignments until they can stay with one for a whole hour — how long it will take to solve a single complex problem on the test.

"They can't just use their math in one problem then set it aside," Aster told The Oregonian. "Maybe once a week, we'll have a really long problem and I will model how we approach it, how we do it, how we work through it."

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com


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