New tests for students on the horizon | GUEST OPINION

For over a decade, residents of Washington have heard various testing acronyms such as WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), MSP (Measurement of Student Progress) HSPE (High School Proficiency Exam), and EOC (End of Course Exam). These tests were designed to test Washington State Standards in Reading, Writing, Mathematics and Science.  However, these acronyms’ days are numbered.

In July 2011, Washington State joined 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia by adopting a set of national standards called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS provide a national framework for English Language Arts and Mathematics with the goal of preparing children for college and the workforce. By shifting to national standards, Washington has also committed to participating in an assessment designed to test our students’ knowledge of these standards. The new tests are called the Smarter Balanced Assessments and will undoubtedly go by the acronym SBAs.

The SBAs are being developed for Washington State, and 24 other states, by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The main purpose of the SBAC is to design a comprehensive and innovative assessment system that is aligned to the CCSS and promotes all students being college and career ready upon graduation.

There are many benefits of being part of the SBAC. These include: 1) It should save our state a considerable amount of money due to the partnership with other states; 2) States involved in the consortium will be able to measure their results against other states (currently each state gives a different test making comparison difficult); and 3) States and districts will have access to additional assessment tools to monitor student progress during the year.

In the 2014/15 school year, the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAs) will replace the MSP in grades three through eight for math, reading and writing.  In high school, the SBAs in math and reading/writing will be in 11th grade. At this time, it appears that the 10th grade HSPE and EOC tests will still be required for graduation. Additionally, there is no replacement for the science test that is given at the fifth and eighth grades.

A key difference between the SBAs and the MSP/HSPE is that SBAs are tied to a “college and career-readiness” standard; whereas, the MSP and HSPE were linked to high-school proficiency. Essentially, this means that a higher level of competency will be required for students to pass these tests than is required for the MSP/HSPE.

One way to think of Smarter Balanced Assessments is in terms of “Smarter” and “Balanced.” “Smarter” can be thought of as the computer adaptive technology that is built into the test. This means that the software will determine questions based on whether a student answers the previous question correctly or incorrectly. If a student answers a question correctly, the next question will be more difficult; if a student answers incorrectly, it will be easier. This allows for more precise scoring of tests than is currently available with the MSP and HSPE. “Balanced” can be thought of as the different types of questions on the test. There will be multiple-choice questions as well as constructed response items (multiple sentence responses to questions) that students have become familiar with on the MSP and HSPE. Additionally, SBAs will contain technology-enhanced items that will ask students to edit text, highlight key phrases, and manipulate data. Performance tasks are the final type of question that students will encounter on the SBAs.  These items will require students to use knowledge and skills from a variety of standards to answer more complex questions.  Students may have to use research skills or integrate information from several sources within the test to respond to items.

This spring several schools in our district will participate in a pilot of the SBAs. This will help the SBAC determine whether questions are appropriate and fair for the subject and grade-level. We will not receive scores back on this pilot test.

CCSS and SBAs are raising the expectations for our schools, teachers and students. Preparing students to be college and career ready upon graduation is a worthy goal that Arlington Public Schools is fully committed to achieving.

Eric DeJong is the Principal of Haller Middle School and Assessment Coordinator, and can be reached at 360-618-6400 or via email at <em>edejong@asd.wednet.edu


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