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Cindy Marten On Common Core, Testing, New Funding Formula

September 19, 2013 1:24 p.m.


Cindy Marten, Superintendent, San Diego Unified

Related Story: Cindy Marten On Common Core, Testing, New Funding Formula


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego's new school superintendent is not just overseeing her first year running the county's largest school district. She is also overseeing San Diego unified's transition to the new common core education standard. And new guidelines will change how school testing is done. So this school year will mark a number of fundamental shifts for both students and teachers. And California is now funding schools differently. So let's just say she walked into one busy school year! Thank you for coming in.

MARTEN: So happy to be here. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: With all the changes going on, what have you done to prepare the district, the teachers, are the students for these shifts?

MARTEN: The shifts in instruction for the common core, to be ready for the common core are very, very important. So I began engaging leadership with the principals in my monthly principal institute to talk about what is needed in the classrooms. And leadership is the key of a quality neighborhood be school. So I'm engaging our principles and thinking about what instructional shifts are necessary to make in the classroom, and how will leader, principals, are lead those changes. We also need to talk to parents about what does this mean. What will it look like as the testing system in the state is going to shift at the end of next year? Are people ready for that? Do they know what that means? Will our students be prepared?

CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about the common core standards a little bit. I know people heard a lot about them. But they may not have really placed these in their minds as to what exactly it is. The national guideline is going to change the way subjects are taught in school. How are they going to be rolled out here in San Diego?

MARTEN: We're making sure that our educators understand they're national standards instead of the California state standards. So we're engaging in small teams of people, teachers working together on understanding what the standards are school by school. And more than understanding the standards, understanding how your teaching needs to change if you want students to be ready to solve real-world problems and be able to be critical thinkers. What kids need to do under the common core state standards is quite different. It's a course-based assessment that's going to ask them not to just bubble in on a test. The California standards tests were based on reductive standards, and we're looking at the broader standards of common core. It's a performance-based assessment.

CAVANAUGH: How does teaching change?

MARTEN: You're looking at the way students need to engage each other. San Diego unified is prepared with our I-21 technology to have interactive learning. And we have students actually practicing broadcast journalism, not reading in a book about it, they're becoming broadcast journalists in school during the school day. Our culinary arts programs, we're talking about relevant real-world learning. What does that mean? You're actually doing things that you will do when you brought. And we say in San Diego unified that we're not just producing the test score, kids are way more than a test score. They're actively literate, contributing, participating members of society. So teachers need to think about those real-world classroom-based experiences and engagements.

CAVANAUGH: I also read there's a lot more writing in the common core standard, and if you make an assertion, you've got to back that up with an argument, right?

MARTEN: You have to be able to read multiple sources. Think about today's world. Can you read a Twitter feed, a Facebook blog, a newspaper article, reading from multiple sources, forming an opinion, looking at the credibility, the source documents, and then make and defend an argument? That's what you need to be to be literate in today's world. So we're giving students instead of reading one text and then writing a bubble of what you just read in the text, you're reading multiple texts, source, bringing them together, making an argument and defending it.

CAVANAUGH: And what are the benefits of this new curriculum that you see?

MARTEN: It's transformational. I'm talking about preparing a workforce. And a workforce-ready individual is somebody who can do what I just described. Somebody who can just get an answer right on a test score is not enough. You're talking about someone who is going to be a productive member of society, be a great employee, and there is a huge shift now in the State of California with the suspension of the Star Testing and reporting system. It's a step away from bubble-in answers where we're only looking at single test scores as a student's achievement. We're looking at multiple indicators. A child is more than a test score. If that, what are they? And we're making sure when we clement common core we're implementing it at the highest level, raising the standards and having an appropriate assessment. I'm proud of our state for saying that at end of this year, instead of testing our students, there's a bill on the governor's desk right now, it has not been signed yet, AB-44 that looks at at the end of this school year, instead of testing students on the old bubble-in California standards test which is phased out, let's field test the new smarter balance assessment in the State of California. And in San Diego unified we're ready to field test it. And there will be 26 states taking the new smarter balance assessment test. In the field test, it's really important that California gets that, and we're fielding testing across the state. So the biases are being able to be addressed, and state student Tom Torlakson's approach to this is leading around, we want to start the higher standards now and be ready next year.

CAVANAUGH: In changing out from the bubble-in, the multiple choice statewide testing to this new open-ended sort of essay type of a testing method, isn't the grading of that more subjective though? Won't teachers have to have their own standards when it comes to all of these essays and this sort of wideranging answers that they get from kids? How are they going to grade these things?

MARTEN: You're talk about what teachers need to do in the classroom. They're going to form accesses on a weekly, monthly basis. And teachers know how to grade student writing using rubrics. The state test, there are 26 states taking this, and this is a standardized system. The teachers aren't grading those tests. That's a national consortium.

CAVANAUGH: So how are these things going to get graded then?

MARTEN: The national tests?


MARTEN: We should look at what the smarter balance assessment system looks like. It looks very important. Students log onto a computer, they log online, it scales up the difficulty as they continue to take the questions. It's really hard to explain. And one of the things I need to do, I want to educate everybody, I want people to see an example of what this looks like and go online and look at sample types of questions students will be asked to take. It's all done on the computer. San Diego unify side more ready than other districts because we do have one to one devices for all of our students. So our kids are digitally literate because we've been losing technology for a long time. I'm worried about districts that haven't had students using technology, and this is the first time they're getting on a computer. I would worry about other districts. I'm grateful that San Diego unified has been ahead. So when they take the test, they're not learning a computer and having to show what they know on a test.

CAVANAUGH: And when will they start seeing these tests?

MARTEN: We field tested in a small number of schools last year. This year we're field testing the entire district. Students will take language arts or math. And I want parents to field test it too. Go online and look at some of the sample items, and we're looking for in our county, how can we educate our parents of what kids are going to be asked to do so they're aware.

CAVANAUGH: You know, as common core is transitioned in, along with the new tests, state and national officials expect a gap in being able to gauge student performance because they're transitioning from one type of testing to another. What's that going to mean to you as you try to evaluate both student and teacher performance?

MARTEN: That's critically important of the as we raise standards, we are also keeping accountability front and center. And we're not stepping away from our accountability measures. We're looking at how do we know what students are doing. And we have leading indicators that we're using with our district benchmarks, they're going to change as the state system changes.

CAVANAUGH: So you have a number of different tests that were the bubble-in tests, and you know how each school was doing because you can compare one year to the other. But when you change to this new kind of test, you can't compare one year to the other. So how will you make up that difference in trying to assess performance based on the standards of the previous years?

MARTEN: So this year with the suspension of state testing for one year, we will -- the state will not be able to compare scores up and down the state. For this one year. On a field test, you're not going to publish results. But this is as we transition. Once we come online with the new test next year, then we'll be able to do -- the API will come back, all those will be published next year.

CAVANAUGH: And another thing this year is funding. A new education funding formula. It gives districts more control of how they spend the dollars. How will San Diego be rolling out this new funding formula and making these decisions that are more locally based?

MARTEN: We're very excited about this change, to be able to have the concentration dollars that we need to support a district like ours, like San Diego unified. We now are getting a funding mechanism that supports that. With that comes a great responsibility. We are committed to implementing the spirit and the letter of this transition formational funding in the state. We're advocating and developing our district website, our local control funding formula and engagement groups, major community outreach, making sure we're going cluster by cluster, giving input from all of the stakeholder groups saying what does this look like. When we have a concentrated allocation, how do we support them with a concentrated -- giving schools what they need?

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. One of the potential criticisms for this new funding mechanism was how are school districts going to be accountable to their students and the community at large as to how they're spending these dollars? And have you come up with -- are you still developing this accountability strategy?

CAVANAUGH: The state's coming up with what they call the accountability plan. We are ahead of that. Do we need to wait for the state to tell us how they're going to hold us accountable, or do we hold ourselves accountable? You get a base grant, a supplemental grant, and a concentration grant. I'm very committed to making sure that the concentrated dollars are delivered with the concentrated need is. And we're leading that with community dialogues around that.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego unified is up for a big national prize.

MARTEN: We're very excited about that. We were nominated as one of four districts, large urban districts across the nation. This was not an award that we applied for. It's the Broad foundation, evaluated large district, and we were selected as one of the top-4 finalists. And we go to Washington DC with secretary dunk apmaking the announcement next Tuesday. We will find out if we were the winner. Whether we're the final winner or not, we'll be coming back at least with scholarships for our students. And to be recognized for the fine work of our student, to me this prize recognizes what our students have done and what our teachers have done to be recognized in this national way. It's a great honor.

CAVANAUGH: If you win though, it's over half a million dollars in scholarship money, right?

MARTEN: Yes, it's pretty amazing.

CAVANAUGH: Now, San Diego unified has gone through quite a bit of hardship in the last few years. Now it is in this competition for the most improved school district. How do you think that happened?

MARTEN: Well, I just said it was our teachers, our principals, and our students. To think that we are living in a time of dwindling resources -- I was a principal at a school in the last ten years, a teacher and a principal. And the dwindling resources forcing us to keep our attention and our focus on our students and on board of education and leadership leading through this horrible financial crisis has done it in a way to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. And yet we did our own style of school reform, making sure the way we engage our students and our teachers, we were able to show small gains in the indicators the Broad foundation was looking at.

CAVANAUGH: And do you think part of that was another San Diego unified School Board was criticized at times for not cutting teachers to the extent that other districts did across California during those hard times. Do you think that had something to do with it?

MARTEN: It was critical. As a principal at a school where that happened, where I went to three years of potential layoffs, and at one point, 52% of my staff pink slips to be laid off, and I had seven years in investment in the staff and professional development, and to be able to maintain stable staffing during very difficult financial crises is the secret to what happened in our district. We through all the challenges were able to keep stability in our schools to the greatest degree possible, and there's a lot of work left to do. We're recognized by the Broad in certain areas for closing achievement gaps. We're not finished. We're going to get clear feedback on what the next steps are going to be and put that stability in staffing and investing in the intellectual capital of the teachers. You invest in the intellectual capital, you build capacity, and then you maintain that. You maintain that which you've built. That is how you transform public education.

CAVANAUGH: You'll be in Washington DC next Tuesday to stand to represent San Diego unified school district as one of the most improved school districts in the nation. And as a top contender for the Broad prize. Congratulations and good luck.

MARTEN: Well, I want to say also thank you to former superintendent Bill Kowba and his leadership team for leading us through a very difficult time. We go together to accept, we hope, the Broad Prize. It was a very large team effort. And thank you for the well wishes.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much.