See our new Smarter Balanced Assessment webpage for information and parent resources.
When students in Battle Ground Public Schools sit down to take state assessments this spring, some of the tests will be different. The paper booklets and their multiple-choice circles that students fill in with a No. 2 pencil are being replaced by digital buttons that students click with a mouse or touch pad.
This year, with the introduction of tests that are aligned with new Washington State Learning Standards, students will sit and use keyboards and touch pads to enter their answers into computers. The state tests, called Smarter Balanced Assessments, are based on Washington State Learning Standards and measure student progress in third through eighth and eleventh grades in the subjects of English language arts and math. Tenth graders also take the English language arts test.
The tests are administered online, following the trend of changes in education that are focusing curricula on preparing students for tech-laden careers and education beyond high school.
In Battle Ground Public Schools, teachers across the district want to give students every opportunity to do their best, and that means helping students become oriented to the computers they'll be using to take the tests and familiarizing them with the tests' new online format. BGPS teachers are working to increase students' comfort level with the technology by increasing the time they integrate Chromebooks into classroom learning activities. BGPS purchased 2,400 Chromebooks at the beginning of the year for collaborative learning projects in schools across the district, and as the platform on which students will take these state tests.
"We live in a world that's changing, and what we teach kids needs to reflect these changes. We need to allow this to help improve our instruction," said David Cresap, BGPS director of assessment.
Earlier this week at Laurin Middle School, Principal Nick Krause collaborated with teachers to invite parents to an informational night on the new tests. Parents learned about the new tests' format and what they could do at home to help their children prepare.
"We want to get students used to being on a computer," Krause said. He recommends that parents help their children learn basic computer skills such as keyboarding, using a mouse, and navigating a web page. Students don't have to take the state tests until third grade, but computer skills are increasingly becoming important in classrooms. Libraries and the Parent Educational Resource Center at Yacolt Primary School have computers available with educational games on which students can build their experience.
Some parents believe that having students take the tests online is a good way to expose students to what is happening in the real world. "With everything going to computers, the computerized tests are going to advance children beyond where their parents are,"
said Dave Newhouse, the parent of a Laurin Middle School fifth grader who attended the school's parent night.
Teachers at the parent night shared some of the things they do to help prepare students for the tests. Ginger Martin, a sixth grade language arts teacher at Laurin, said she familiarizes students with the online format and the way questions are presented. "We are exposing students to the types of questions that are on the test so the format doesn't become an obstacle," Martin said.
The online testing format also offers benefits to educators in that test results will be available much sooner than in the past, and teachers will find out which topics students excel at and which ones students might benefit from additional practice on.
The Smarter Balanced Assessments also adapt to how a student answers questions on the test. Students might get easier or more difficult questions about a particular topic as they progress through the test, depending on whether they are choosing the correct answers for that topic.
"That is an advantage of this online world over paper and pencil," Cresap said. "The computer adaptive nature can measure not only progress, but students' depth of knowledge on a topic."