Idaho schools give new achievement tests a workout

Scores from the exams based on the Common Core standards won't count, but the tryout gives kids and educators a better idea about the process.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEApril 8, 2014 

Starting this month, Idaho public schools are field testing the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests aligned with new Common Core State Standards.

Students in grades three through 11 are taking the assessments in Moscow, where the testing window is April 1 to May 16.

Students at Lewiston schools, where third- through eighth-graders and 11th-graders will be tested, start today and continue through May 29.

"Things are going well," Moscow School District Superintendent Greg Bailey said.

"We're finding that the test is taking a little bit longer than expected - that's part of the field test's purpose."

Bailey said that while the state's former assessment, the ISAT, took an average of six total hours to complete, this year's tests might average about nine hours.

Schools in 45 states, including Idaho and Washington, have been implementing Common Core standards used in the tests over the past two or three years.

Students and teachers won't see the scores from the English and math-based tests being administered this spring, but all students at Idaho and Washington public schools will receive official results in 2015.

"The intention is to test the test," said Lisa Fenter, Lewiston School District curriculum director.

"Just the kids having the experience of what this new testing will look like will go a long way regardless of the individual feedback of how they did," Lewiston School District Superintendent Bob Donaldson said.

Testing is entirely on computers.

"With limited computer lab space, it just takes a lot of time to get students in and out," said Sarah Hanchey, Moscow School District curriculum director. "The test is actually untimed, so students can take as much time as they want or they need.

"Doing it for the first time, we don't know how long it will take to finish," she said.

Though the tests require more time overall than their predecessors, Bailey said they offer more flexibility.

"We can split this test up a little bit more," he said. "That's one of the things we're looking at: What's the best way to split this up so we don't stress out the kids?"

Bailey is a member of Idaho's Smarter Balanced advisory committee, made up of administrators, superintendents, test coordinators and teachers.

He said student feedback so far has been mostly positive.

"The kids are stating that they like the test better. It's not as monotonous as in the past," Bailey said.

"It was promising to hear that kids liked it. I believe it's more of a challenging test for the kids, but if it perks their interest that's good."

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