An interview with Principal Sonia Arámburo

What is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)? What kinds of things does it measure
In the transition to the Common Core State Standards, California selected the SBAC as its statewide assessment tool. Unlike the former California Standards Tests (CSTs), which were made up of multiple choice questions and answers, the SBAC is a computer-based test that measures students’ knowledge of English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics standards. The SBAC uses multiple sources of information to assess a range of skills, including listening, reading, speaking, writing, research, inquiry, problem-solving, modeling, and data analysis. By answering in paragraph form vs. selecting multiple choice options, students are tasked with analyzing a given problem and demonstrating their understanding of it by citing evidence.

Historically, how have your students performed on the SBAC.
In the past, our students performed well in math, but not as high in ELA. Now, we are seeing higher ELA scores on the SBAC. Students are asked to use technology and think critically when explaining their answers, and we know this ensures readiness for middle school, high school, college, and careers.


Since becoming a Turnaround Arts: California partner school, Mary Chapa Academy has seen significant improvements in its scores — why do you think that is?
A number of things! We have a strong focus on literacy, and we use a systematic program to find and close the literacy gap during “Universal Access” time when students are grouped for targeted instruction/intervention that focuses on key tasks. If our kids can’t read, they won’t be able to do well in math, science, or history, and their SBAC scores will reflect that. Arts integration supports our students’ learning because it supports all content areas. At the end of a reading, our teachers may ask students to create a tableau of major events in the story or produce a collage or crayon-resist to depict content knowledge of the story’s setting. After responding creatively, we ask them to write about their processes which aligns so well with citing text, a key skill measured on the SBAC. When I look at our SBAC data, I see that our numbers are rising in higher levels and falling in lower levels — this is where we want to see a decrease, and these are the students who are typically hardest to reach.


What strategies will you employ to continue on this growth trajectory?
We are thinking about how to continue growing. This school year, we especially want to focus on arts integration to push our students’ math learning further, and we are mapping out tangible ways to do this in our annual strategic arts planning process. I believe that the arts have helped us create an amazing school environment in which students want to come learn and feel comfortable being creative thinkers. The arts decrease stress for our young learners and help them to make cross-hemispheric brain connections.


After rolling out Visual Thinking Strategies in our English Language Development (ELD) classes last year, I’m very interested to see how our English-learners performed on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). Results will be available in February, and we’re hoping to see gains that help move our students towards reclassification as fluent speakers of English — otherwise, they’ll be placed in remedial classes in middle and high school that restrict their access to arts electives and college-required coursework, and we know from our improving SBAC scores that these offerings are a vital piece of the puzzle in reaching struggling students.