Credit: iStockphoto.com

New computerized tests in math and English will test students’ technological and comprehension skills. Credit: iStockphoto.com

They can send two-thumbed text messages at the speed of light; deploy an infantry of firebats to quash a Zergling attack against the Terran species in StarCraft while doing their algebra homework; and take, edit and post a photo on Facebook while skateboarding. Yet, even with this seemingly innate technical aptitude, many students will be stymied when they sit down to take the computer-based field test aligned to the Common Core standards starting this month.

“It’s a quantum leap going from a multiple-choice paper test to an open-ended computer test. We’re now testing something in a format that most students aren’t used to,” said Joel Hampton, superintendent of Owens Valley Unified School District in Inyo County. The test, aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English, replaces the pencil-and-paper bubble test for students in grades 3 through 8 and 11; the test was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a states-led group developing the most effective way to test students in the new standards.

(See companion piece on whether schools have adequate technology to offer the test.)

The most basic worry is that students don’t have keyboarding skills – known archaically as touch-typing – but even familiarity with “the quick brown fox” won’t help much when faced with a split screen displaying a reading passage on the left side and questions on the right side that requires each to be scrolled independently.

“The biggest thing is not necessarily the device that they’re going to be taking it on, but being familiar with the actual assessment, so the technology doesn’t get in the way of them demonstrating understanding,” said Colby Smart with the Humboldt County Office of Education, who helps teachers integrate technology into their lessons.

As in many California schools, students in Humboldt County have been taking the practice tests available online to become comfortable both with navigating through the test and understanding the types of questions.

Like the Common Core State Standards they’re aligned with, Smarter Balanced assessments go beyond conventional multiple-choice questions, asking students to show deeper critical thinking through data analysis, persuasive writing and showing how they got their answers.

One of the assessment targets – what students are expected to be able to do – described on the Smarter Balanced website illustrates these new expectations: “Students can analyze complex, real-world scenarios and can construct and use mathematical models to interpret and solve problems.”

Students may be most unprepared for one aspect of the test, called “performance tasks.”

First, they’ll get a half-hour classroom lesson on a topic developed by Smarter Balanced. Then, students will turn back to the computer, where they’ll have one or two hours to complete a series of activities related to that lesson.

Nuclear power is used as an example for an eleventh grade performance task in English language arts. In the classroom lesson, students learn about different energy sources and the controversy over nuclear power. For the assessment, students are asked to imagine that they’re chief-of-staff for a local congresswoman who has to decide whether to support plans for a nuclear power plant in her state.

The task begins with the congresswoman’s assignment. “I need you,” she continues, “to conduct a brief survey of the pros and cons of nuclear power. Summarize what you have learned and report back to me this afternoon.”

After researching the issue on the Internet, the students have to cite sources for each side of the argument and evaluate the credibility of those sources. Finally, they have to draft a report recommending a position for the congresswoman, taking into account all the research.

Hampton worries that such complex, multi-part questions may baffle students, especially the youngest ones. He said the practice tests show that students may know the correct answer, but be confused by what they are supposed to do.

“A lot of it is just following the directions; one simple misdirection on the instructions and they’re way off in left field,” Hampton said. “They’re completely performing the wrong task and there’s no way to get the right answer out of it.”

Contact senior reporter Kathryn Baron and follow her on Twitter @TchersPet. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California. 


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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    How are librarians and lack of libraries part of this topic? Did I miss something?

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      Richard pointed out that the skills necessary for the kinds of things mentioned in the article may have left school districts with our librarians.

    • Richard Moore 2 years ago2 years ago

      Don, did you click on the test question and read it? It provides a fabulously structured research problem that will introduce to students something they will have only seen if they attend a well stocked, well staffed library. That is something denied to 90% of California students. We would have to hire about 7000 school librarians to compete with the rest of the US. The example has every junior in the country accessing the … Read More

      Don, did you click on the test question and read it? It provides a fabulously structured research problem that will introduce to students something they will have only seen if they attend a well stocked, well staffed library. That is something denied to 90% of California students. We would have to hire about 7000 school librarians to compete with the rest of the US.

      The example has every junior in the country accessing the same articles online at the same moment during their test. That will crash most websites, given that there are about 4 million juniors. And it pretends that real research is done online, through Google.

  2. Richard Moore 2 years ago2 years ago

    Notice that when I post about the lack of libraries there is never a response. Californians don’t have the foggiest idea what happens in school libraries.

    Replies

    • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

      its one of those issues people want to believe doesnt matter or doesnt exist. acknowledging it is admitting that we’ve gone so far in our ideological fight against unions that we’ve literally found it more important to deny our kids libraries than ‘give in’ to having them staffed with real librarians. politics over kids, as usual.

    • el 2 years ago2 years ago

      Most people don't understand that being a school librarian is a skilled, professional task that is different from teacher or avid reader or clerk who checks out books. There's a reason a degree in library science is its own thing, and being a children's librarian is even more specialized. There's more to selecting books to make up a library than "oh, I liked this when I was a kid," and harder still is knowing what to … Read More

      Most people don’t understand that being a school librarian is a skilled, professional task that is different from teacher or avid reader or clerk who checks out books. There’s a reason a degree in library science is its own thing, and being a children’s librarian is even more specialized.

      There’s more to selecting books to make up a library than “oh, I liked this when I was a kid,” and harder still is knowing what to remove from the shelves to make room for new ones.

  3. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Caroline is absolutely right. Now we see Democrats and Republicans finding common ground in opposing the CCSS Initiative in over 39 states, most of which have legal challenges pending and some of which have outright rejected ObamacOre. "State standards" are just a façade created to get around the Constitutional prohibition of Federal standards. I recently attended a common core presentation at my son's middle school. Granted, it's been awhile since I was in 6th … Read More

    Caroline is absolutely right. Now we see Democrats and Republicans finding common ground in opposing the CCSS Initiative in over 39 states, most of which have legal challenges pending and some of which have outright rejected ObamacOre. “State standards” are just a façade created to get around the Constitutional prohibition of Federal standards.

    I recently attended a common core presentation at my son’s middle school. Granted, it’s been awhile since I was in 6th grade, but the practice math test struck me as convoluted and unclear. The tests may be a problem or else I’m getting senile. Not to be selfish, but I hope it’s not the latter.

  4. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    You're misreading, "Floyd." The same forces that are viewed by teachers and their supporters as hostile to teachers are behind the new testing. Teachers and their supporters (as well as students and their supporters) are not happy with excessive testing that leads to cutting back on students' enrichments to focus on test prep and are not happy with high stakes attached to the testing. So those voices are not fans of the testing regimen under No Child … Read More

    You’re misreading, “Floyd.” The same forces that are viewed by teachers and their supporters as hostile to teachers are behind the new testing.

    Teachers and their supporters (as well as students and their supporters) are not happy with excessive testing that leads to cutting back on students’ enrichments to focus on test prep and are not happy with high stakes attached to the testing.

    So those voices are not fans of the testing regimen under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top either. But they are not the forces behind the new Common Core push. The opposite is true.

    Replies

    • Floyd Thursby 2 years ago2 years ago

      Caroline, you're not supportive of grades and testing not because of the time it takes. You have plenty of opportunities to get your kids into all kinds of artistic activities after school in SF, they're everywhere. You object because your kids didn't do well on standardized test and didn't qualify for Lowell, and if they didn't have these tests, they would have because they had good grades but didn't test well. You … Read More

      Caroline, you’re not supportive of grades and testing not because of the time it takes. You have plenty of opportunities to get your kids into all kinds of artistic activities after school in SF, they’re everywhere. You object because your kids didn’t do well on standardized test and didn’t qualify for Lowell, and if they didn’t have these tests, they would have because they had good grades but didn’t test well. You posted about this on other sites, I remember.

      If your kids don’t test well, don’t blame the tests. Study with your kids on Saturday, in the evening, get them a tutor, help the teacher, get them to read more. Don’t scrap the test.

      The status quo wants what we had before, grade inflation so grades lack real serious meaning, no test scores so you can’t tell the difference between a top 5% kid and an average kid, teacher pay, seniority based on LIFO with no merit pay and dismissing teachers virtually impossible, and kids being socially promoted. The average black kid in 12th grade reading at the 8th grade white average and 7th grade Asian average, but both smile with their meaningless diploma.

      The movement to require an Exit Exam got so watered down very few kids fail it now, and is meaningless. Let’s report a score on the exit exam, and you need a certain score to get any good job, police, fire, etc. We need to reward kids who work hard and don’t make excuses. Kids who study long and hard even when they feel like watching a show or playing should get noticed.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        Floyd,

        It is really inappropriate for you to get personal and discuss the test scores of children of people who comment here. Not only that but you are making assumptions that are probably falsehoods as well. If you truly want to go down that path, I could comment on your family escapades with entry into Lowell, but I wouldn’t do that. It’s wrong.

  5. Floyd Thursby 2 years ago2 years ago

    Go back to the old test. Enough whining. The only reason they wanted to get rid of it is it was embarassing many people. Ineffective teachers, minorities, those who don't study often or hard, males, every protected group imaginable. It showed not all teachers are equal and not all students are equal and effort matters, and that there is a way to do well even when poor as demonstrated by ethnic … Read More

    Go back to the old test. Enough whining. The only reason they wanted to get rid of it is it was embarassing many people. Ineffective teachers, minorities, those who don’t study often or hard, males, every protected group imaginable. It showed not all teachers are equal and not all students are equal and effort matters, and that there is a way to do well even when poor as demonstrated by ethnic groups in the same school as failing ones, with the same incomes, who do just that. The status quo wants to blame poverty. The tests disprove that.

    The Balanced Scorecard has so many arbitrary factors it’s going to be meaningless.

    I hope they report it in separate sections. The only part which will have any value is the 20% based on the test scores. They should report that separately and rank schools separately based on overall and test scores. The rest of it is just smoke filled coffee house bull****.

  6. Richard Moore 2 years ago2 years ago

    How could there possibly be a “right answer” to the posed problem? There is a process to be demonstrated. The reporter doesn’t have a clue what is happening in the test. And no machine can determine what the process contains and if the sources are valid. Especially in California where 90% of the librarians who guide such research processes have be fired.

  7. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    A teacher friend just did a practice test and said no way is it going to work even if schools had the technology to do it, which they simply don’t.

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