PPS-SF sought feedback from families last week on a change to Lowell High School admissions criteria. The Educational Placement Center will now use SFUSD students' spring 2016 SBAC (standardized test) scores in the admissions process. This is a shift from requiring all students applying to Lowell High School to sit for the Terra Nova test in January 2017, as has been the practice since the prior version of state standardized testing (CST) was phased out in 2013. Non-SFUSD students, or students who did not take the SBAC test as 7th graders must still take the Terra Nova test in January.
We asked for comments and questions related to the change via an online form and also sought in-person feedback from PPS-SF's Latino Parent Clubs and Chinese Parent Clubs. We received 50 responses over the 48 hours that the survey was open (we had to close it early due to a technical glitch, but continued to receive comments via email). We also had numerous phone, email and in-person conversations about this issue.
Concerns we have heard fall into 3 general categories: lack of advance notice of the change; fairness of using different tests; and lack of direct communication.
Concerns about lack of advance notice / retroactive change to admissions criteriaMany responses said it was unfair that students and families were not informed that the SBAC test would "count" for Lowell admission. Parents in many schools felt that teachers and administrators downplayed the importance of the test and in some cases they were told that the test and technology was still in a "pilot phase" or "experimental" and were assured student scores had no meaningful weight. Multiple comments noted that students would have taken the test more seriously if they were aware that the scores were part of the calculus for Lowell admission.
Concerns that different tests for different student groups is not equitableSome comments noted that students taking the test in January will be more mature, will have covered more material in the classroom, and will know that they are taking a test that counts towards Lowell admission. Commenters also found it inequitable that the SBAC is an online test while the Terra Nova is a pencil and paper test. Most respondents had not seen and did not have an understanding of how the SBAC scores/Terra Nova percentile range would relate to "points" for purposes of Lowell High School admission.
Concerns about how the change was communicated
Most parents learned of this change through word of mouth and had received conflicting information (that the Terra Nova was still in use for all students) from sources such as the Lowell High School tour and SFUSD website.
Some noted upsides to using the SBAC test
About 10% of respondents were happy with the change noting that using the SBAC is easier on students, avoids excessive testing and removes barriers to admission for students whose families may not be as "plugged in" to the enrollment system. However, even some who supported use of the SBAC thought the change should have been communicated in advance of testing.
Report to the Board of Education
We reported on the feedback we received during public comment time at the SFUSD Board of Education meeting on October 12 and noted that many respondents hoped there would be an opportunity for SFUSD students to opt-in to the Terra Nova test this year. The full text of comments we received were submitted to a member of SFUSD's administrative leadership.