Assessment Task Force gears up for likely new science test

Idaho education leaders are teaming up with a consulting firm to stage a yearlong conversation about testing.

Created this summer by Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, the Assessment Task Force is an approximately 20-member group that is gathering data and feedback as the state braces to launch a new science test.

The task force met Monday at the State Department of Education offices in Boise. During the meeting, it worked with consultants from Assessment Solutions Group to identify trends in testing and take a closer look at costs other states are paying for testing.

The move is timely because the Idaho Legislature is once again expected to review a slate of proposed science standards during the upcoming 2018 legislative session. If and when the Legislature approves new science standards, Idaho education officials will need to buy or develop a new test aligned to those standards.

Idaho’s current approach to science assessment — offering end of course assessments in biology or chemistry at the high school level — does not square with requirements the Every Student Succeeds Act, so officials want to take a proactive, inclusive approach to testing, said Karlynn Laraway, Idaho’s director of assessment.

“It’s a big conversation — and not just in Idaho — as new science standards really change the way we think about science with students,” Laraway said. “It’s not just knowing science, it’s doing science.”

But science isn’t the only topic under discussion. Idaho’s task force is taking an all-of-the-above approach.

“…A thoughtful conversation about what Idahoans want and value in assessment system is long overdue,” Ybarra said in a written statement announcing the task force.

Idaho remains under contract with the vendor AIR to administer the Common Core-aligned SBAC tests in math and English language arts through June 30, 2019, Laraway said.

Overall, the consultants said Idaho pays $23.65 per student, per year for the math and English tests, which is just under the national average.

“The answer to legislators saying ‘Are we spending too much on testing?’ I think the answer is no,” consultant Ed Roeber said. “Compared to what other states are spending, you have an excellent test at a below-average cost.”

Neighboring Wyoming, for example, pays more than $148 per student per year for English and math tests. Wyoming has a smaller student population, and is one of just three states that does not conduct assessment online.

Overall the consultants identified several trends:

  • States continue to leave testing consortia such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, of which Idaho is a founding member.
  • At the high school level, more states are dropping the SBAC and replacing it with a college entrance examination, such as the SAT or ACT.
  • States are reporting fewer glitches with online assessments such as the SBAC.
  • Many states are working on developing new science assessment tests.

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