Harcourt Assessment’s Stanford Learning First system first takes into account a state’s individual standards and then tailors a test to suit the specific needs of the state. According to Harcourt, most other companies typically develop one standardized test and use it as the basis for later state adaptations. The online testing system allows educators to conduct both web- and paper-based testing, the results of which are easily tracked via the company’s web site. Perhaps the most interesting element of Stanford Learning First is its built-in formative component. Answers to questions on the test are written using what Harcourt calls an Answer-Choice (Distractor) system. The system posits four answers to any given multiple-choice question, only one of which is right. Every Distractor answer represents a typical error. Teachers can then track the typical errors made by students and modify instruction techniques to address those deficiencies. Stanford Learning First tests are now being administered in six states, including Texas. The system currently tests only for reading and math in the third through eighth grades. But Harcourt hopes to take the program much further. It is developing the system to test for other subjects and, according to one Harcourt representative, the company hopes eventually to “design 51 unique tests–one developed to the standards of each state and the District of Columbia.”

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