Latest tests offer advantages

Early next week students in the Everett School District’s third- though eighth and 11th grades will begin their annual round of testing in math and language arts subjects, but this year marks a shift to a new method of testing.

As outlined Monday by Herald Writer Chris Winters, students will trade the use of a pencil to fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice test for an online test using laptop computers, Google Chromebooks.

The tests, called Smarter Balanced Assessment, for the advancement in technology alone, would appear to offer some advantages over the No. 2 pencil and a paper form.

Among the improvements:

The tests are adaptive, meaning that depending on how well the student is answering questions, the test adjusts, moving to easier or harder questions to provide a better indication of the children’s strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject.

Test results are expected to available sooner and should provide more depth about each student’s progress in a format that students, parents and teachers will have access to.

For juniors in high school, the SBA’s math tests could also offer better placement in college math and English courses. Scores in the 11th grade test will set one or four levels for each student. Scores in the first two levels will direct students into a course in their senior year that will prepared them better for college. Scores in the higher levels will, through coordination with the state and private universities and colleges, will offer them appropriate courses there.

The test for 11th graders is expected to be used as a graduation requirement, but that use is being phased in. High school juniors this year and next will take the previous standardized test as well as the new SBA test. Passing either will fulfill the graduation requirement.

The additional work that juniors are putting in to complete two tests will allow state administrators to calibrate the new tests against the old so a fair standard can be set for graduation. (If you know a high school junior or sophomore, buy her or him a cup of coffee or find another way to thank them for the extra effort they’ll be putting in.)

Parents and the general public can take various practice tests at tinyurl.com/SBApracticetests. Click on the green box that reads “Student interface practice and training tests.”

Students already have received some training in the test, familiarizing themselves with how to enter their answers. Likewise, Everett School District has invested in the necessary infrastructure to keep glitches to a minimum during testing. The district spent $1.7 million on 3,400 laptops, which also are available for classroom use. The district also has spent the money to enhance Internet accessibility in the schools.

Even with the state launching the new tests, a few in the Legislature still are dithering over whether or not to back them and the Common Core standards for which they were developed. While student testing will continue to see changes in content and method, state officials and lawmakers should settle on a testing protocol and let students adjust and move on.

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