The Smyrna School District will be a busy place this year. From implementing new curriculum changes and standards to starting work on projects from the major capital improvement and current expense referendum, it will surely be an eventful 2014-2015 school. However, the biggest change could be that of the new Smarter Balanced state assessment test.

The Smarter Balanced test replaces the state DCAS test. Now students will be given a summative assessment once a year rather than three times. The purpose of changing from DCAS to Smarter Balanced was done to make testing more aligned with Common Core Standards. Smarter Balanced is a national effort.

With the change, Smyrna School District Curriculum Director Dr. Sandy Shalk said students this year will be experiencing a different kind of test – one where there will be multiple levels of questions from basic knowledge to questions that require a higher order of thinking.

The change in state testing, Shalk said, is two-fold: implementing the new state system and preparing for the change.

To help prepare for the change to Common Core and Smarter Balanced, Shalk said is the use of the Learning Focused model. Learning Focused provides a framework to utilize best practices in the classroom. Shalk said Learning Focused, which was previously used in the district, will help teachers implement higher order of thinking skills.

“As we look at college and career readiness goals, we need to look at what students need to do to prepare for college and careers, which is a big piece Common Core,” Shalk said. “We do believe that the implementation, in a very deliberate comprehensive way, of higher order of thinking skills and increasing the rigor will prepare students for the Smarter Balanced assessment.”

Shalk said with Common Core, students are expected to be able to evaluate, synthesize information, research, plan, compare and contrast, and more.

To prepare for the change, teachers have been participating in professional development sessions, and working around units of study.

Once school starts, students will do some practice assessments to see what the test looks like.

“It’s a different type of test and will be new for the school system, not only in Delaware but many states will be doing this test. We can look at how we do in comparison to other states similar to our school district,” Shalk said.

Along with teaching Common Core Standards, educators will have to provide students opportunities to be engaged in the classroom, from problem-solving activities to long-term projects and student-interaction collaboration, Shalk said. Teachers will also have to find ways to integrate knowledge through various forms of media to make learning interesting and exciting, he said.

“The thing is students really enjoy this. They get excited and that’s the ultimate goal…to engage learning. That’s always been the goal,” Shalk said.

Even though the district students will be taking the Smarter Balanced test for the first time in the spring, Shalk doesn’t expect a dramatic dip in test scores.

“I think that’s the possibility as it was with all new assessments we’ve done, and that’s expected statewide,” Shalk said. “The goal is not to teach the test as much but to teach the standards since the test assesses student growth with the standards. I think we can expect some change as far as effort, but our pattern in Smyrna has been to learn as the new pieces come along and seek to get better. If there’s a statewide dip, we’ll grow from that.”