Common Core assessment countdown is on

Concern over statewide testing is growing, and some school leaders are seeking changes.

broberts@idahostatesman.comDecember 21, 2013 

In three months, your children will take the hardest, most demanding and likely longest statewide assessment ever given in Idaho public schools.

Welcome to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the exam that will test your kids’ knowledge of Idaho Core Standards.

As the clock ticks down, however, Treasure Valley superintendents are expressing doubts about just how long the test will take, whether all grade levels need to take it and how districts’ technology will hold up to thousands of kids pouring into computer labs to take the exams.

Several of those superintendents met Friday with Tom Luna, state superintendent of public instruction, to air their worries and ask for changes to the exams.

Luna promised to look into their concerns but also said the pilot test that students will take this year is meant to identify problems and work out issues before the tests start counting in 2015.

Although Treasure Valley superintendents voiced concerns, state education officials say they have not heard the same from school districts elsewhere in the state.

Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, said he was glad for the discussion. “Now we need to see what comes of that,” he said.

What are the issues?

HOW MUCH TESTING?

The Smarter Balanced Assessment, projected to take up to 8.5 hours, robs instructional time and will be hard on the kids, Coberly told Luna: “We see it as a logistical nightmare.”

Luna countered that actual test time is likely to be six to seven hours and doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. The Idaho Standards Achievement Test, the previous statewide assessment, took about four hours.

Superintendents asked for ways to shorten the exam. That could mean pulling out some of the multiple choice questions, state education officials said. A criticism on the ISAT was it was strictly multiple choice; that meant the state didn’t assess writing or allow students to show what they know.

WHO TAKES THE TEST?

Idaho is required to test students in third through eighth grades and once in high school. But the Smarter Balanced Assessment is planning to test students in ninth through 11th grades. Superintendents urged Luna to make the tests for freshmen and sophomores optional, or give it to just a sampling of students.

“At high school, we have testing overload,” said Pat Charlton, Vallivue School District superintendent.

Luna acknowledged that there might be some options for ninth- and 10th-graders. But he also noted that if sophomores don’t take the exam, they won’t have the experience before taking the test as a junior, which could play a role in deciding whether a student can graduate.

SAT OR SMARTER BALANCED?

Eleventh-graders face taking both exams this year. The SAT has longstanding credibility for assessing a student’s college readiness, Coberly said. Eleventh-graders are required to take one of three college entrance exams, and most take the SAT. Coberly said the state could replace the juniors’ Smarter Balanced exam with the SAT and eliminate one test.

But Luna said the Smarter Balanced exam is based on Idaho Core Standards. The SAT is moving toward lining up with the Common Core standards in place in 45 states but hasn’t completed that work.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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