SBAC testing times prove shorter than expected

Despite glitches, the state’s new Common Core-aligned assessment test is not taking nearly as long to finish as state officials estimated.

SBACStudents in schools across the Gem State have been taking the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced for the first time this month. About two-thirds of them have finished the test with more than three weeks remaining before the May 22 deadline.

State officials are finding the testing time is shorter than originally estimated.

  • For 10th graders, state officials estimated the math and English language arts tests would take 10 hours to complete. Data from nearly 375,000 tests compiled between March 30 through April 23 shows the test only took six hours and 41 minutes on average – 33 percent below the estimate.
  • For third graders, the estimate was seven hours, but the actual tests have taken an average of six hours and six minutes – nearly 13 percent shorter than the estimate.

The tests are not administered all in one day or even necessarily in one week. School leaders many administer the tests in chunks throughout the testing window, which opened March 30 and continues through May 22.

The length of the test and perceptions that it would cut into instruction time were two of the objections opponents of the SBAC raised in the past year.

A couple factors may explain why the tests aren’t taking as long, said Angela Hemingway, the state’s director of assessment and accountability. First, many schools have administered the test twice before – a pilot test in 2013, and a field test in 2014 that did not count. Those “trial runs” gave them experience and helped them work through bugs.

Secondly, the computerized test is adaptive, meaning a student who demonstrates that she knows the material will be able to advance more rapidly without having to repeatedly answer more basic questions. By the same token, the test is designed to identify a student who may not be as advanced, and tailors the questions more to that student’s actual abilities.

“About two-thirds of our students (statewide) have tested, and that’s a very positive number coming in,” Hemingway said. “A lot of people are wrapping it up.”

Schools and districts have reported some bugs. Some audio components of the English test have failed or needed to be restarted. But students and educators have been able to fix the glitch by logging off and logging in again or booting up at a different computer, Hemingway said.

Additionally, some younger students struggled with functions of the computer portion of the test, such as hovering and clicking versus dragging and dropping.

Beginning Friday, Hemingway expects results of the test to be scored and returned to schools within 10 days, in line with the contract between the state and American Institutes for Research. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium leaders adjusted their grading rubric early in the testing process, slightly extending the timetable for returns results, Hemingway said.

About 300 Idaho teachers are grading the SBAC tests on evenings and weekends.

Hemingway isn’t the only one who has been pleasantly surprised with the new tests.

“It’s actually gone pretty smoothly,” Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said.

In Twin Falls, educators and administrators prepared students throughout the year for the tests – from focusing on coursework to ensuring elementary students were comfortable with the computer equipment.

At Sawtooth Elementary, a teacher scheduled a dress up day to help motivate kids, encouraging them to celebrate what they have learned.

Idaho Falls officials said students were completing the math section earlier than scheduled, but some spent extra time on the English portion, which includes lengthy reading and writing sections.

“In general, things are going fairly well, although there have been some glitches with individual tests,” Idaho Falls spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said.

At the high school level, Idaho Falls teachers expect students to be completely finished with the tests this week. High school students in Idaho Falls shifted to block schedules in an attempt to isolate testing and minimize the loss of instructional time.

Wimborne said there have not been any widespread system failures or outages, and that only nine students had opted out of the test.

Up the road from Idaho Falls, about 40 percent of Madison School District’s students opted out, even after district leaders reversed course and decide to administer the test this year.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that the federal government will intervene if states like Idaho do not to reach the federal testing requirement.

“We have an obligation to step in,” Duncan said during an Education Writers Association conference in Chicago attended by Idaho Education News. “States have the responsibility to work with districts. We think most states will do that.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter stepped in earlier this month when Madison leaders announced they would not administer the SBAC.

Federal education law requires states to administer an end-of-year assessment to 95 percent of eligible students. The ISAT by Smarter Balanced is Idaho’s test of choice.

Superintendent Sherri Ybarra is working to get a more flexible agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, but that will not waive the testing requirement for this year, Duncan said.

Tim Corder, a special assistant to Ybarra, said the state stands to lose $11.6 million in federal funding if Idaho falls short of the 95 percent requirement.

Pete Koehler, Ybarra’s interim chief deputy superintendent, said last week state officials won’t know exactly how many students opted out until the testing is complete.

Idaho Ed News editor Jennifer Swindell contributed coverage to this story from the EWA conference in Chicago. 

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