The Times West Virginian

February 21, 2013

Standardized tests must be good tool to assist students and their educators

Times West Virginian

— Mastery of facts is certainly an important part of education.

Top students, though, go a step further as they move through their school years. They are able to apply the information they have learned to real-life situations, an ability that will pay great dividends as they proceed with their education and careers.

With that concept in mind, students across West Virginia are being prepared for a new standardized test that will replace the WESTEST.

Students will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test during the 2014-2015 school year. It is based on the national Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states, including West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Every teacher in Marion County will be trained in the Common Core State Standards for next year, Marion County Superintendent of Schools Gary Price said at this week’s board of education meeting. Randy Farley, administrative assistant for curriculum, technology and instruction, will be in charge of the training.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, according to its web site, “is developing a system of valid, reliable and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11. The system — which includes both summative assessments for accountability purposes and optional interim assessments for instructional use — will use computer adaptive testing technologies to the greatest extent possible to provide meaningful feedback and actionable data that teachers and other educators can use to help students succeed. Smarter Balanced assessments will go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended-response and technology-enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”

The Common Core State Standards, according to the mission statement, “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

West Virginia officials believe the change in standardized testing will help the state better educate its young people.

“WESTEST is just a West Virginia-based test. Smarter Balanced is being developed by a consortium of 26 states. This should assure parents that West Virginia is implementing an equal curriculum,” said Robert Hull, associate superintendent for the state Department of Education’s Division of Teaching and Learning. “Now, we will be able to measure how our students compare to other states much easier.”

They won’t be measured simply by facts they can recall.

“The content is much more rigorous in that students don’t just need to know all of the basic skills, but instead need to be able to apply those skills. It’s not just, ‘Do you know it or not?”’ Hull said. “We used to say our curriculum was an inch deep and a mile wide, but it’s no longer about that. It’s about knowing fewer, more strategic things at a much deeper level. Students actually have to take the information and do something with it — not just regurgitate it back.”

The new test will be taken on a computer.

“Right now, everyone has a pencil and paper and they’re asked the same question. The new test is adaptive, which means students will be taken to different levels when they answer questions. If they get the answer right, they will receive a more advanced question,” Hull said.

It’s an evolving process.

Kindergarten and first-grade classes are now using the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives for math and reading/language arts. The standards are being implemented in second-grade classes, and all grades will use them by the fall of 2014. Standards for other subjects are still being developed. In the interim, the WESTEST will be used for science and social studies, Hull told the Charleston Gazette.

Standardized testing is not about passing or failing. It’s about developing information to help students and those responsible to educating them.

West Virginia is moving to meet that objective.