Educators are requesting more time to understand the Next Generation Science Standards

The Delaware Department of Education has postponed a new standardized test. The test, aligned with the state’s new science standards, was to be released during the 2016-17 academic year. Educators said they need more time to learn new standards.

Michael Watson, chief academic officer for the Department of Education, said the state is giving teachers more time to understand the Common Core aligned Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, adopted in 2013, support hands-on science education.

“When we set out to adopt these standards we said that we wanted to ensure that all teachers were ready for any new assessment that was coming,” he said.

The state new test replaces the science portion of the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System, or DCAS.

“We just don’t think [the DCAS] is a sufficient test,” Watson said. “I think this is a real opportunity to think about assessment differently.”

The DCAS test is given in third, fifth and tenth grades. Before the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test was introduced, it included science, social studies, math and English. It now covers only science and social studies.

Watson said the department is moving the new test’s release to the 2018-19 academic year. He said this is preferable to having teachers introduce new standards when they aren’t ready.

According to the original Request for Proposals, the state was to pick a firm to create a test last December. In January, Alison May, DOE spokesperson, said other factors, including Senate Joint Resolution 2, held them back.

SR 2 requires districts to inventory their current exams to determine which are obsolete, part of an attempt by the state to decrease the number of standardized tests students take.

“This could result in recommendations to make changes to the draft assessment calendar and what was proposed in the RFP,” she said.

Sharon Densler, science specialist for the Capital School District, agreed that teachers aren’t ready to prepare students for a new test.

“We need more time,” Densler said. “We want to do it right the first time.”

Densler said the extension isn’t just about giving teachers more time; companies that develop tests are also behind.

“They are still working on this material as well,” she said. “They’re not ready to put them out now as aligning with the next-gen standards.”

Densler isn’t alone in her opinion.

Teachers from across the state gather each month to discuss the Next Generation Standards. This group of educators is organized by the state to highlight better ways to carry out the standards.

At their most recent meeting March 8, teachers expressed concern with teaching the new standards, even though the DCAS tests on old standards. Others were trying to understand exactly how the new standards are supposed to be taught.

According to educators, the old standards were checklist education. Teachers simply followed a list of curriculum requirements. The new standards, however, aren’t so straightforward.

Rachael Mills, a science teacher at Hodgson Vocational Technical High School in New Castle, told fellow teachers she sympathized with their troubles. The new science standards include criteria or guidelines, but teachers are still trying to figure out the best way to present topics.

“Our old standards were very specific. Teachers got used to having a checklist,” Mills said. “I think teachers need more time to make adjustments. If I’m not going to have a checklist anymore, then what are you going to ask the kids?”

Not everyone is on board with the postponement.

Jessica Davis, a science teacher at Positive Outcomes Charter School in Dover, supports releasing a test sooner rather than later. She said a new test would be a relief because the DCAS doesn’t align with the new standards.

“I’m very much a dive-into-the-deep-end kind of person,” she said. “I do wish that they would’ve started the test next year. To hold off for two more years, I think it’s prolonging the inevitable.”

Watson said the DOE will provide examples of what a future test might look like.

“We are going to start to embed some items into the existing DCAS test,” he said. “We will be providing examples of new and exciting test items that teachers can get comfortable with.”

When students take the 2016-17 DCAS they’ll answer a set of experimental questions in the exam. But their answers won’t be in the final score, Watson said.

A field test will run in 2017-18, he said. It will be similar to one conducted in 2014, where 4 million students were tested so expectations could be set for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test.