(Tribune News Service) -- With spring comes end-of-year assessments, and this year students will take a new Common Core-aligned test education officials say is more challenging and will lead to deeper understanding.
It will be the third different test West Virginia students will have taken in as many years.
In the past, West Virginia’s end-of-year student assessment, the WESTEST, has included mandatory multiple-choice testing in science and social studies in addition to math and English. Last year, that test was digitized and delivered by computer, a move that proved problematic at first but signaled a new blended-learning approach to student assessments.
In a few weeks when students begin taking this year’s test, that new approach will be taken one step further as the state abandons multiple-choice tests for the interactive and adaptive Smarter Balanced assessment.
It’s a change Department of Education officials have praised, but one that has many concerned over testing fatigue brought on by a new assessment that students and teachers are not yet familiar with.
“The biggest difference is that these new tests integrate technology,” said state Superintendent Michael Martirano. “They are active and engaging, so students aren’t just writing down answers anymore.”
Martirano went on to say that the Smarter Balanced assessment, which will evaluate for the first time how well students have learned under a new set of education standards, will allow them to show what they know instead of tell what they know.
In addition to being delivered completely online, the test is different from past assessments by having students work through problems in each subject and show how they arrived at their answers.
John Duffy, the director of instruction for Kanawha County Schools, said the test also is different because it is adaptive, basing the next question on how a student answers.
“The computer program adjusts the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment,” Duffy said.
Education officials are hoping that varying the difficulty of questions will give a clearer picture of whether students are comprehending their coursework.
With those changes, however, comes a period of adjustment.
“My concern is to make sure kids are prepared and that the learning environment is optimized for them to succeed,” Martirano said. “Because the first year can be challenging with everything being new.”
Because the new test is so different than the previous assessment, department officials have agreed not to use results to determine teacher and school grades until 2016 when two sets of results can be analyzed.
“We want to compare apples with apples,” Martirano said, adding that taking a year-long pause was needed.
Testing data still will be collected and analyzed at the state and county level this year, however.
While Martirano said it’s not uncommon for there to be a short-term dip in achievement in a transitional year, he feels the state is in a good position moving forward and that the foundation is being laid for long-term improvement.
Duffy agrees. He said students who were part of a multi-state field test last year, described the assessment as challenging and said it took more thought to answer questions.
While the tests are considered more difficult, Duffy said Kanawha County students welcome the challenge.
“We are well prepared, and I am confident our students will work extremely hard to perform to the best of their abilities,” he said.
Like any other year, teachers have been preparing students for the test throughout the year.
Duffy said practice assessments have been administered to orient students with the new test. Those practice tests and other planning resources can be found at www.wv.portal.airast.org.
The testing window is April 5 to June 24, but most schools only need three or four weeks to test their students. Counties and individual schools work out and set their own testing schedules during that time frame.
©2015 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC