Testing … 1 2 3 … from the expert

TJ Bliss, a national expert on testing, answered questions from teachers and principals about the future of assessing Idaho’s students.

Bliss was a featured guest during the Idaho Leads project’s fall conference held this week at the Boise Centre on the Grove. The Idaho Leads project assists public schools and charters with the successful implementation the Idaho Core Standards through regional professional development sessions. An hour-long QandA with Bliss featured about 140 educators participating in the project.

Bliss in the director of assessment and accountability for the State Department of Education. He also serves as Idaho’s K-12 Lead on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The Smarter Balanced Assessment will be given to all Idaho students next school year and will serve as the tool that hold schools accountable. The assessment was created off the standards.

What is the difference between last year’s test (ISAT) and the new test?

The biggest difference is the new assessment will be computer adaptive, which means when a student gets a question right, he or she gets a more difficult question. If another student gets the same question wrong, he or she is sent down a different questioning path. There are 50,000 questions in the Smarter Balanced bank and that will grow over time.

 What does the test look like?

Students are used to multiple choice testing and there will be a few multiple choice questions in the Smarter Balanced Assessments but there also will be selected response questions (when a student can select more than one answer), drawing, moving and editing options, open-ended questions, fill-in-the-blank tasks and essays.

How will the test be scored?

It was originally planned to score the test with artificial intelligence, but we’ve moved to scoring partially by computer and using humans to score most of the items, such as essay questions. The disadvantage is there will not be immediate feedback, as was the case with ISAT testing because it was all scored by a computer. It may be a month before schools have Smarter Balanced Assessment results.

Will Idaho teachers be involved in the scoring?

That depends on a request for proposal that’s been made. There is a tradeoff for that, because we would be pulling some of our best teachers out of the classroom, but Idaho will want some representation.

What is the field test assessment?

Every Idaho student in grades in 3-11 will be taking the Smarter Balanced field test this spring. There will be no scores reported back. The field test is designed to test the test and set the cut scores of what will label proficient to below basic. About 10 percent of the test results from the 26 states in the consortium will be used to establish the cut scores, which is about 2 million students. Those students who are part of that research won’t know.

How long with the new assessments take?

The test will take about twice as long, especially until we work out the kinks.

What happens the following school year (2014-15)?

All students will take the Smarter Balanced Assessment and schools will be held accountable based on those results.

What holds schools accountable this year?

We will be missing a year of data. Schools will have the same five-star rating this year that they earned last year and until we make a new accountability assessment in the summer of 2015. This gives time for schools to implement Idaho Core Standard.

ISAT will group students and the Smarter Balance will rate them on growth for the results released in the summer of 2015.

 How are students expected to perform on the new assessments?

We expect the rate of proficiency to drop in half. We are setting a new bar with the higher standards. Right now, 85 percent of Idaho students are proficient and we expect to be in the 40-50 percent range with the new assessments. We need to be prepared for that and understand what that means.

 Last thought from Bliss:

 This end-of-year assessment is not the most important thing we get from the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium. It is the ability to leverage power from the assessment with professional development.  Focus on the formative assessment piece as an instructional practice. It’s not just a test, it’s a way of teaching. It’s a system —  a whole library of tools that will be available.

 Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and the Idaho Leads project are funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.






Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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