“The big question is: Are the kids ready for this type of testing?” said Carol Hughes, an ed-tech consultant and the former manager of information technology for the Oak Creek Franklin Joint School District in Wisconsin, which took the new Common Core aligned practice tests this past spring.
“It’s way different than fill in A, B, C, or D,” she said. “Some terminology is different, like instead of saying ‘select’ something, the question says ‘highlight.’ And questions go deeper into a text passage than before. You couldn’t just guess the answer.”
The new tests will require changes to instruction, but schools also will have to work with students to get them used to taking tests in the new online format.
In field testing in Colorado this past spring, 48 percent of students who took the state math assessment online said they preferred the old paper format, and 52 percent said they’d rather take it on a computer.
Tom Ryan, a CoSN board member and retired chief technology officer for the Albuquerque Public Schools, leads CoSN’s “Becoming Assessment Ready” initiative. He said a key barrier to this effort in schools is the fact that officials in charge of assessment, instruction, and IT too often work in independent silos.
“Without a collaborative, cross-functional strategic planning team, it’s hard to gauge true readiness,” Ryan said.
The school districts that are best positioned for new online exams not only have such a cross-functional team in place; they also offer classroom access to technology for teaching as well as testing.
“The schools that will see the most success are the ones where technology is woven into everyday instruction,” Ryan said.
Kari Flitz, chief academic officer at Milwaukee College Prep’s network of charter schools, said sixth and seventh graders had difficulty with the pilot versions of the tests.
“They completely struggled,” Flitz said. “They couldn’t identify what they were supposed to do, where the question was in the problem.”
School leaders responded by implementing a new math curriculum and delivering professional development to their teachers last year. They also purchased an online testing program aligned with the Common Core standards and worked with students on their keyboarding skills.
“There’s always going to be state accountability,” Flitz said. “We just have to do what we need to prepare our students for the transition.”