Sunday, September 21, 2014

School district gears up for new online state tests

From page A1 | March 18, 2014 |

Like other school districts across California, the Davis school district is ramping up for a big change this spring in the way students take standardized tests.

The new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests, which replace the old paper-and-pencil STAR exams, will be administered online. School district officials are scurrying to get new computers installed during spring break, March 24-28, so that all will be ready when Davis starts the actual testing process on April 22. Testing will continue through May 16.

“We are on track for many of our computer labs to be refreshed” — with new, up-to-date computers — “over spring break,” said Kim Wallace, director of instructional technology for the district. A few computer labs were already up to standard, she said.

“The kids will have some opportunities to be on the new computers for a couple of weeks before the testing begins,” Wallace added.

This year will be a “test of the test,” also described as a “field test,” to see how will the students handle the new routine and the related technology, and what sort or difficulties or snafus crop up.

“We will be trying our hardware and our bandwidth to make sure we have everything up to par,” Wallace said. “We will be able to see what is working well, and what is not working well, so we can fix any problems in time to run an actual test in spring 2015.”

The California Department of Education, in an announcement earlier this month, noted that this year’s field test was “not designed to be a valid and reliable measure of student achievement; rather, it is designed to help the test developers evaluate whether the tests, individual items and the technology platform work as intended before the first operational administration. ”

As a result, schools will not be seeing the scores from this field test, and scores will not be used to calculate the state’s Academic Performance Index, which ranks individual schools. Parents will not get a letter showing how their child did on this year’s exams. Those aspects of the new system will take effect next spring.

“I believe that our students are going to find the new test items more challenging than the old STAR tests,” predicted Clark Bryant, associate superintendent.

The new tests are based on the recently adopted Common Core academic standards, rather than the 15-year-old California standards, which were the foundation for the old STAR tests. The new tests are intended to evaluate a student’s ability to think about and solve programs in greater depth, and students will be asked to do more than fill in bubbles on a paper form.

They will click and drag some items, scroll down through text and perform other common computer functions, and there will be more situations in which students will think through questions, rather than rely on memory and repeat information.

Teachers will help students log in at the beginning of the test, to “verify that each student is on the right screen, and the right test is showing up for them,” Wallace said. “That will be one of the initial changes that people will notice.”

In addition to online assessments involving math and English language arts, the new tests also include what are known as “performance tasks,” in which a teacher and a class of students will do a 30-minute activity based on a pre-selected theme, and then students will answer a set of questions based on their participation in that activity.

It will take a student about 3 1/2 hours to entirely complete the new online tests.

The new tests were developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multi-state group.

A practice test that provides a sample of the kinds of questions that will be on the new online test has been available since November, and some teachers have been using that in their classrooms. Others will be working on the practice test with their students after spring break.

Parents who want to see the practice test, and perhaps work on it with their children at home, can find a link at the Davis school district’s website, Look on the left side of the home page for a list of “hot topics” and click on the link titled “spring testing.”

During this year’s field test, students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade will take the online exam. Ninth- and 10th-graders will be tested on a more limited basis for scientific sampling. Students in transitional kindergarten through second grade will not be tested this year.

High school students still will be required to pass the California High School Exit Exam in order to graduate; it will be administered on paper. There also will be paper tests this year for evaluating science in grades 5, 8 and 11. Some students with special needs will take the California Alternative Performance Assessment test.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at or 530-747-8055.




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