The Times West Virginian

May 29, 2014

Accurate testing in education key in helping students prepare for future

Times West Virginian

— Assessment is a critical part of the education process.

From exams throughout the year in the classroom to the annual standardized tests, the goal is to measure what students have learned and how they can apply this knowledge. Information gained is valuable for the students, and teachers and administrators benefit as well in developing the most effective teaching strategies.

Marion County is seeing significant change in the assessment process.

County students took the WESTEST online for the first and last time this year. In 2015, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, designed to measure college and career readiness and aligned with a new set of Common Core State Standards, will replace the WESTEST. West Virginia put these standards within its current framework of educational standards to create the West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards.

“When they changed the content standards to align with the Common Core in English/language arts and math, the assessment, of course, would have to change with that,” said Randy Farley of the county’s Central Office.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment will be fully functional in the 2014-15 academic year, and it will be administered online to students in grades 3-8 and high school juniors. It’s testing that continues to go beyond measuring command of facts.

Unlike the WESTEST, the assessment will incorporate a performance task section, during which teachers will conduct a classroom-based lesson about a certain concept, and then students will respond to that lesson to show their level of understanding.

Marion County got a head start with the new assessment.

East Park Elementary, Watson Elementary, East Dale Elementary, West Fairmont Middle, Pleasant Valley Elementary, Monongah Middle, East Fairmont High, Fairmont Senior High and Rivesville schools participated in the pilot program.

“(Teachers) taught the lesson in the morning, and in the afternoon (students) took a test on that lesson that was taught,” said Jessica Whaley, assistant principal of East Park.

“I think it went really smooth,” Lisa Lister, principal at West Fairmont Middle, said. “Our teachers loved it, and our counselor was involved with it. We had the proper training. It’s all based on the support you get, and we had the support and we had the technology at West Fairmont Middle School.”

Whaley doesn’t feel the transition from the WESTEST to the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be difficult next year, since students have already been introduced to taking online tests.

“Smarter Balanced seems to be more oriented to the curriculum than the WESTEST was,” said Whaley. “We have the Common Core goals now, and it focuses more on strategies of learning those common standards.”

The Common Core State Standards are academic standards in English language arts/literacy and math that carry across states to create consistent learning goals.

The standards build on the existing state standards and lay out expectations of what students should learn at each grade level in order to be college and career ready, according to the core standards initiative website.

We’re confident Marion County, after effectively changing to the online WESTEST this year and conducting a pilot project with the new assessment, will fare well with next year’s change.

“One thing about Marion County, we always have the necessary training to implement these new strategies, so that’s why I think they go so well,” Lister said.

That’s critical. Success means turning out students better prepared as they move on to the workforce or higher education.