The school administration has decided to test drive an online standardized test known as the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test from April 1 to 12 this school year. The test is meant to replace the California Standards Test by spring 2015.
The online assessment system provided by Smarter Balanced is intended to replace the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program in California by the 2014-2015 school year. Without a major change in law, students in California will still be required to pass the California High School Exit Examination to receive a high school diploma, according to the California Department of Education.
According to assistant principal of curriculum Holly Giles, Smarter Balanced selected the two-week period of April 1 to 12 for the school to administer the assessment. The test will be administered in the various computer labs around the school during students’ math classes. According to Giles, schools taking part in the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test will not be receiving the results of the assessment.
The test is going to be taken by 22 sophomore math classes and 22 junior math classes, fewer than originally planned. This is approximately 50 percent of both the 10th and 11th grade classes. “We are limited in how many students we can test at one time because of the limited amount of hardware we have access to that can support the technology-based Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Giles said.
The technology access is impacted by the fact that the Smarter Balanced Secure Browser is unable to run on the school’s recently acquired Chromebooks, according to math department head Thomas Chambers. The browser is set up to prevent students from having other programs open during the duration of the test, and the browser is currently incompatible with Google Chrome OS. According to Smarter Balanced, there is a way to run the online assessment on Chrome OS, but it requires setting up separate individual user profiles on each computer for each student using the computer. A pencil and paper version of the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be made available to schools in 2016, as when the completed version of the assessment is used by all schools, it must allow for schools without enough computers to use the exam.
There are two versions of this test: the Scientific Sample Pilot, which Lowell students will take, and the Volunteer Pilot, which is being tested at other schools. The Volunteer version of the test, which Lowell will not be taking, contains both English and mathematics content and will be given to students in grades 3 through 11. The Scientific Sample version of the test will only contain one of the two subjects and can only be administered to two grade levels per school.
The Scientific Sample version of the test is being given to select schools from mid-February to mid-May and will be used to collect information, such as how well the software works. The Volunteer version of the test is being given out to schools that register online; this version of the test is administered to show what it is like to take the test, and will be given out from early April to mid-May.
Smarter Balanced has been developing this online assessment system for several years, and results from the scientific sample will be used to check if the system is working properly. According to Giles, the main reason that the Pilot Test was created was to test the technology that will be used by Smarter Balanced for future online assessments. Future versions of the Smarter Balanced assessment system will be computer adaptive, meaning that the difficulty of the questions in the assessment will change based on how well the student taking it has done on the previous questions. The Pilot test will not be computer adaptive, according to the Smarter Balanced website.
The school is taking only the mathematics portion of the Pilot Test, which contains content based on the statewide course curriculum; the content is not based on what course the student tested is enrolled in, which means that the questions may not address the student’s current knowledge.
California joined the SMARTER (Summative Multi-state Assessment Resources for Teachers and Educational Researchers) Balanced Assessment Consortium as a governing state in mid-2011. As a governing state, the California Department of Education is able to participate in decision-making regarding the assessment system. The consortium is made up of 25 states total, all of which are eligible to try the Smarter Balanced system during its initial run. Only about 10 percent of the total schools in the consortium were selected to take the scientific pilot.