Schools work through testing glitches

Mountain Home Superintendent Tim McMurtrey is glad that Idaho schools are taking one year to cure the hiccups associated with the new Common Core-aligned test.

SBACAcross the state, students in grades three through 11 are in the middle of taking “field test” versions of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.  Results won’t be tabulated, or count toward accountability this year, but the testing dress rehearsal gives students, teachers and administrators a chance to gear up for the high-stakes tests.

McMurtrey and others administered the tests without major catastrophes.

But there have been bumps in the road.

  • Audio components of the test have been difficult for some students to follow, especially students with hearing impairments.
  • The SBAC testing site crashed once, locking students out briefly.
  • The initial process of beginning the test for the first time was slow or chaotic for some schools, but improved greatly after the initial launch.
  • Some younger students have been confused by computer tasks they did not understand, such as dragging and dropping or scrolling.

“At the elementary level, we had a couple meltdowns from kids who wanted to do well on these tests and were such strong students that when they can’t get through all of the process they melt down or they are crying and upset,” McMurtrey said.

Despite a handful of technical issues, some educators have been very impressed with the new test. Rodd Rapp, a school achievement specialist in the Bonneville School District, said he was most surprised many students prefer the SBAC test to older assessments.

“Almost across the board, 95 percent of students have said ‘we love typing our answers (on the computer),’” Rapp said. “That was the thing that had adults the most worried.”

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Randy Schrader
Randy Schrader

Rapp said Bonneville students enjoyed thinking through an answer and providing an original argument they could develop and type out – as opposed to filling out a multiple-choice test or writing in pencil or pen.

Randy Schrader, superintendent of the Garden Valley School District, said his students generally responded positively.

“The testing has gone very well,” he said “The test seems to be more engaging for the students. There are fewer questions and it’s harder, but they like doing the work.”

At The Village Charter School in Boise, students enjoy the noncomputerized performance section, where a teacher presents a lesson and students solve complex problems using critical thinking skills.

“Our students have expressed a lot of satisfaction for the performance task, which have given them an opportunity to really express the depth and their level of understanding,” said Tony Richard, lead administrator of The Village Charter School. “That has really put a lot of people at ease.”

Luci Willits, the State Department of Education’s chief of staff under Tom Luna, said the move to SBAC means the days of having a 25 percent chance of guessing a correct answer on a multiple-choice test are in the past.

“Ninety percent of the old ISAT test was lower level thinking skills (such as multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank),” Willits said. “Now, 70 percent of the test is higher level thinking skills.”

Even with the experience of the field test under his belt, McMurtrey isn’t sure the SBAC is as good as advertised. He said it takes too much time (up to 7.5 or eight hours, though students may stop and start the test and do not need to finish in one day).

“It’s just taking up way too much time for schools,” he said. “I not the only one (concerned). There are several other districts saying ‘you’re tying up the computer lab, you’re tying up those resources of your schools.’”

Willits said replacing a largely multiple-choice test with a more complex test is bound to lead to a lengthier test. But she said there are more important factors than time – noting the new test takes slightly longer than previous assessments.

“The measure of whether it’s a good test is the information it provides and the students’ experience,” Willits said.

Continue the conversation: How has SBAC testing gone in your school? Email us or leave a comment below.