Idaho Kids Take New High-Tech Test This Week

Mar 31, 2014

Idaho has been giving its test the I-SAT on computers for years. Other states that gave their tests on paper have had to make big investments in computers to transition to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho school kids in 3rd through 8th, and 11th grades will be taking a new test starting Monday. The Smarter Balanced Assessment replaces the I-SAT which Idaho had been using to measure student achievement for years. Smarter Balanced is based on the Common Core standards Idaho and most other states have adopted. Students in more than 20 states are taking it this week.

There are two ideas behind this test. One is to compare how students are doing state-to-state. That was hard to do when each state had a different test.

The other idea is that those old tests Idaho and other states had weren’t very good at measuring student learning because they were multiple choice.

“You can’t get at those deeper, critical thinking skills with those kind of questions,” says Jacqueline King, one of the directors of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. “You’ve got to give students tasks that are more rich, more complex.”

King says Idaho students can expect to do a lot of writing this week. They’ll also have to perform other complex tasks like demonstrating how they solve math problems.

There will be some multiple choice, but it'll be presented in a way Idaho students haven't previously been tested. Part of this test uses computer adaptive technology, meaning, the questions get harder or easier based on how each student's answers. King says students who have breezed through standardized tests in the past will find this one challenging.

“Conversely, the student who is struggling will get questions that are at a level that they can do them,” she says. “And we can learn about what that student is able to do and not just what they’re not able to do.”

The length of this test has upset some Idaho parents, teachers and administrators. That includes some who are big supporters of the Common Core Standards. King says students need time to complete all the writing assignments and other complex tasks. It could take kids eight hours over multiple days.

“Those are estimates,” she says. “And one of the things we’ll be looking at in our field test is how long is it taking students to complete the assessment.”

King calls it a field test because this year’s Smarter Balanced Assessment doesn’t count. It’s a practice for designers who are trying to work the bugs out before the test is officially launched next year.

You can see what the test is like by taking this practice test.

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