Feds to shape the future of assessment

In developing their exams, participating states also must use “an industry-recognized, open-licensed interoperability standard” approved by federal officials, to ensure that states will be able to switch seamlessly from one technology platform to another if they need to.

Of the $350 million, $30 million will be set aside for a separate competition to support the development of common high school course exams by a consortium of five or more states.

The goal of all of these competitions is to spur the development of new tests that can provide a more accurate and comprehensive picture of each student’s progress and college or career readiness. But the grants also could hasten the delivery of exams via computer in states across the nation.

One company that has extensive experience in developing computer-based summative exams is Pearson, whose TestNav high-stakes testing platform is customizable to state requirements.

TestNav launched in 2000 and last year was used to administer 4.5 million tests in 13 states, Pearson says. The latest upgrade to the system, TestNav 7, is completely web-based—meaning students can use any standard web browser to take a high-stakes exam.

TestNav’s features illustrate the kinds of capabilities that computer-based testing could bring to summative exams. For one thing, the platform allows states to build accommodations into the testing process for special-needs students, such as the ability to enlarge the text, allow for more time, and embed audio files that would read passages aloud to students.

TestNav also can make the test-taking experience more dynamic and interactive for students, allowing them to demonstrate the kinds of higher-order thinking skills that would be hard to show in a pencil-and-paper test.

For instance, one state exam being developed for the TestNav system has students answer science questions in which they perform various tasks by manipulating virtual science equipment on the screen. They can figure out the mass of a rock by dragging and dropping it onto a virtual scale, and they can calculate its volume by dropping it into a virtual beaker of water.

And, because the exams are computer-scorable, students and educators can get near-immediate feedback on results.

Despite the promise that computer-based testing holds for the nation’s students, federal officials note there are still several hurdles they would need to address.

“Are there specific implementation challenges that we should ask applicants to consider and address in their proposal?” said Joanne Weiss, director of the Race to the Top program. “In particular, what evidence or strategies should we require of applicants to ensure that the computer-based and any needed paper-and-pencil versions assess comparable levels of student knowledge and skill, while preserving the full power of the computer-based item types?”

Tracy Freeman, director of program technology management for Pearson, said school technology infrastructure also could pose a challenge.

“The biggest challenges we face with implementation today is school infrastructure, meaning there’s just not enough computers for all the students. We’re hoping these problems might change soon,” Freeman said.


U.S. Department of Education

Pearson TestNav 7

Enhanced Assessment Instruments

Race to the Top

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Enterprising Instruction resource center. Using data to inform instruction is one of the Obama administration’s keys to effective school reform, and technology is helping a growing number of educators accurately identify their students’ needs and deliver targeted—and timely—interventions when appropriate. To benefit fully from such a data-driven instructional model, schools need a system for tying their instructional and administrative processes together—in effect, bringing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) approach to the classroom. Go to:

Enterprising Instruction

Meris Stansbury

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