By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Third- through eighth-grade students in the Quillayute Valley and Sequim school districts, Quillayute Valley district-run home-schooled students and middle school students in Port Angeles School District will be part of a pilot test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which will be taken in 2015 by 19 million students in 24 states.
The assessment will test students in English and math based on the Common Core curriculum in order to compare school districts across state lines and track student progress toward college readiness.
The exam will become a graduation requirement in consortium member states in 2019.
“Washington is participating in this effort because the successful implementation of Smarter Balanced assessments is a critical part of our plan to ensure that all students graduate high school ready for college and careers,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction.
Five western states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Nevada — are all members of the Smarter Balanced Consortium.
Through the pilot test, the program will gather information about the performance of assessment items and the test delivery system under real-world conditions in 6,000 schools nationwide before the test is put in place in 2015.
The Smarter Balanced exam will be administered online, but the pilot test does not include the computer adaptive feature designed for the assessment in 2015, according to the Smarter Balanced website, www.smarterbalanced.org.
The adaptive feature reacts to individual student performance, changing the exam as the student shows areas of difficulty or mastery.
The test format is not the traditional multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions used on past state assessments.
Instead, the new exam will ask students to demonstrate higher-order thinking using problem-solving, essay-writing and research projects.
Schools and students will not receive their test scores from the pilot test.
Instead, their scores will be used to determine the baseline for passing score cutoffs for exams taken in 2015.
Dorn said that while 11th-grade students will take the new exam beginning in 2015, it will not become a graduation requirement until 2019.
The three Clallam County districts volunteered to be part of the pilot test.
“We can learn a lot about how our children will be assessed,” said Vince Riccobene, Sequim School District executive director of teaching and learning.
The exam is computer-based, so there are a lot of technology systems that need to be brought online, and serving as a pilot district prepares the schools and students in a low-stakes environment, he said.
“It's better to learn about these things in a field-test scenario,” he said.
Prior to taking the pilot test, students will have the opportunity to take a training test to become familiar with the format of the assessment.
State exam holds
Riccobene said Sequim students in kindergarten through eighth grade will not take the state “Measure of Student Progress,” or MSP, English and math exams this year in order to make time for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Students will take the exam in late April and continue testing into May.
Fifth- and eighth-grade students will take the MSP exam for science, and high school students will take the state exams.
The district's state “report card” will be based on the 2013 exams, he said.
Sequim has already transitioned to the Common Core curriculum to prepare for the state's shift in the 2013-14 school year, he said, while the state exams are still based on previous curriculum.
Currently, there are multiple systems being used by state districts to teach and test students, so the 2014 exam results will be “complicated” to decipher, Riccobene said.
In Port Angeles, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Stevens Middle School will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment on April 8, and all testing should be finished by May 16.
Because the school's computer lab does not have enough computers for all students, they will take the exam in small groups over the six days of testing, said Superintendent Jane Pryne.
“It is a good test preparation for students to learn about tests coming up in the future. It has different kinds of questions than previous exams,” said Pryne.
Portions of the exam are led by teachers instead of simply giving students a piece of paper and pencil and turning them loose with the test, Pryne said.
Practice tests are available for students and teachers to get a first look at the new format.
Some Port Angeles High School teachers and those at two elementary schools are not using the exam this year but are using the opportunity to look at what their tests will look like next year, Pryne said.
Like Sequim, Port Angeles also sees the pilot test as a chance to test the district's technology capability and fix any problems before the real test begins next year, she said.
Like other school districts involved in the pilot test, Quillayute Valley School District is interested in learning about the test itself, becoming accustomed to the dramatically different format and in making sure the district's technology is ready, said Lindsey Wallerstedt, assistant to the superintendent.
Early systems checks have already revealed a few minor glitches, but so far nothing serious, Wallerstedt said.
“We're already starting to take practice tests,” she said.
Middle school students will take the exam in late April, and elementary students will take it in May.
Unlike other districts, Forks home-schooled students will be included in the pilot test.
This year only, local home-schooled students will be tested, but in 2015, more than 1,000 students from the district's online Insight School will be required to find one of 30 sites statewide where they can take the supervised exam, Wallerstedt said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.