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Montana first to implement computerized pilot program for standardized tests

2014-03-09T06:00:00Z 2014-03-12T00:16:01Z Montana first to implement computerized pilot program for standardized testsBy DEREK BROUWER Independent Record Helena Independent Record
March 09, 2014 6:00 am  • 

Students won’t be sharpening number two pencils to take the state standardized test this spring.

Instead, they’ll use computers to try out a new assessment that will measure how well students are meeting recently adopted Common Core state standards.

Around 70,000 students in grades 3-8 and 11 will participate in a pilot program of the Smarter Balanced exam, which replaces the Montana Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT).

Field tests of new Common Core-aligned exams are being conducted around the country before the tests become official in 2015. But Montana is one of only a handful states to go “all in” by scrapping its existing assessment a year early and requiring all students to participate.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau sought and received permission to do so from the U.S. Department of Education, saying it would ease the state’s transition to the new exam without testing students twice this spring.

“We should look at it as a practice run,” Juneau said in a recent interview.

Smarter Balanced is one of two main assessments developed to accompany the new standards, though at least eight states that have adopted Common Core have elected to create their own exams. Twenty-two have signed on to Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, including all states in the Northwest.

The standardized tests, intended to track student progress, are used as a key measure of school accountability under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Like the standards themselves, the new exams emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills. They cover literacy/reading and mathematics.

“The test itself is different too,” Juneau said. “Rather than just having to read a passage and answer stuff about the plot, students are going to really have to know content to answer these computer-based questions.”

In one sample problem, the student is asked an open-ended, rather than multiple choice, question about a short passage. Another asks the student to highlight phrases in a paragraph that elucidate the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

The final version of the Smarter Balanced exam will be adaptive, meaning that a student’s answer to one question will dictate which question comes next. The difficulty will steadily increase with correct responses and decrease with incorrect ones to hone in on the student’s ability level.

“I really like the idea that it’s going to tell us what the kids know, (instead of) what they don’t know,” said Joe McMahon, principal at Radley Elementary in East Helena.

Juneau said the new test will be a “restart” for the state’s student achievement data.

“There can be no comparison between our new assessment and our old assessment because they’re based on two entirely different sets of standards,” she said.

Because this spring’s assessment is experimental — a test of the test, rather than students — schools and families won’t receive information about student scores, nor will the state have the data to compare school performance. It will take a couple more years after Smarter Balanced becomes official before results can be meaningfully analyzed.

In petitioning for the federal waiver, Juneau nonetheless argued that it wouldn’t make sense to test students this spring using the outgoing exam, because teachers are no longer using the old standards. Montana educators began implementing Common Core last fall.

The Smarter Balanced test is estimated to cost around $2 million, or around $29 per student, according to the Office of Public Instruction. That’s slightly less than the CRT, which costs $32 per student.

Unlike its paper-and-pencil counterpart, the computer-based exam promises a new test-taking experience for many Montana students as well as fresh challenges for teachers and school districts.

Administering the test will take longer than the CRT, because few schools have enough computers to test all students at once, which will cut further into instructional time.

The test is untimed, with each section expected to take three to four hours to complete.

Schools have between March 18 and May 14 to complete the tests. Students in grades 4, 8 and 10 also will continue to take the science portion of the CRT, and students with special needs will take the CRT-alternate exam this spring.

While many schools currently use some computerized assessments, this is the first time OPI is mandating one statewide.

“It’s very new for us,” Juneau said.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. forbooks
    Report Abuse
    forbooks - March 10, 2014 11:48 pm
    A key point in this article is "each section expected to take three to four hours to complete." A third grader is expected to take an assessment that will last 3-4 hours each day for several days. The big loser in all these standardized assessments is the student. How are our children ever going have time to learn what is supposedly being assessed when their instruction time is constantly being interrupted with assessments since schools due other assessments as well such as MAP testing. The end result is that the students probably don't even try any more since the results don't have any bearing on their grades. I think 2 million dollars could be put to a lot better use than stressing out our kids.
  2. stand4freedom
    Report Abuse
    stand4freedom - March 09, 2014 2:51 pm
    These TESTS ( quite long) on a computer and then we won't know the results for several years: parents and even teachers will not be in "observance" of where this data is going and who created the Computer Program that grades the tests?? I say, download the OPT out forms on Montanans Against Common Core, ASAP and give to your school. There is a federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that is being altered here without the consent of the governed. Parents this is where the "control" mechanisms are instituted once they get this "social engineering" data into the wrong hands. The powers that be knew most folks just wanted to get to their jobs each and pay for their families bills, (too busy) 7-8 hours a day government monies and of course your tax dollars are at work in forming minds to go along with this Social Engineering, labeled under Job Skills for America's future- Don't buy into it, investigate, owe it to your children!
  3. Reader14
    Report Abuse
    Reader14 - March 09, 2014 8:01 am
    So what is the end goal of all this testing? Is it to benefit students by identifying who needs more help...and then actually providing it? Is it to evaluate teaching performance to see which teachers are promote better teaching? Is it a way for the Feds to beat States over the head when the results don't meet some arbitrary criteria? Or is it simply some bureaucrat in Washington came up with this brainstorm to spend money?

    If a teacher is any good, he/she will know which students need more help without spending a lot of time and money doing all this "testing". A standardized test doesn't evaluate any individual's ability to learn, or what they've learned to date. Every student is different, and may learn different things in different ways. A standardized test is merely a way to rank students to someone's idea of a scale. Bah! Another waste of taxpayer money and educational time.
  4. caribouboy
    Report Abuse
    caribouboy - March 09, 2014 6:48 am
    I couldn't be more pleased to read that we have so much money to spend that we are able to move from paper tests to computerized. The best thing about that is the wonderful outcome for our economy with the additional spending. Guess we don't have any infrastructure concerns or teacher salary needs. And another side benefit is that the tests will be corrected automatically.

    The American taxpayer. The gift that keeps on giving.

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