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New standardized tests prompt school districts to update technology

Student and teacher training also part of move from bubble sheets to computer testing

Posted: April 7, 2014 2:16 p.m.
Updated: April 7, 2014 2:16 p.m.
Aljohn Cabuang, left, and his sixth-grade classmates take a training version of the new standardized test on computers at North Park Elementary School on Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson  Aljohn Cabuang, left, and his sixth-grade classmates take a training version of the new standardized test on computers at North Park Elementary School on Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson 
Aljohn Cabuang, left, and his sixth-grade classmates take a training version of the new standardized test on computers at North Park Elementary School on Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson 

With new, technologically demanding standardized tests on the horizon, Santa Clarita Valley school districts have worked for months, or even years, to prepare their technology infrastructures, teachers and students for the shift, officials said last week.

Beginning this month, Santa Clarita Valley school districts that serve students in elementary, middle or high school will begin conducting field tests of the new Smarter Balanced assessments that are replacing the Standardized Testing and Reporting tests, or STAR tests, previously used to assess student performance.

The biggest difference between the two tests is, quite simply, how they are taken. While STAR assessments presented students with the familiar pencil-and-paper bubble sheets, Smarter Balanced tests are taken on a computer.

That means local schools had to make sure they had enough computers, and a good enough Internet infrastructure, to ensure they could handle the technological demands of testing.

Schools in the Saugus Union School District, for instance, boast new computer labs for student use, said Superintendent Joan Lucid.

The district has also worked to expand its wireless Internet capabilities.

Aside from getting the new technology ready, Lucid said, the district has worked to make sure teachers and staff members are prepared for the new testing.

Lucid said the focus is on getting students used to the testing interface and getting staff members and teachers ready to administer the tests.

“I think once everyone has gone through it and worked things out, it’ll be OK,” Lucid said.

Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger also said his district has purchased new computers and worked to make sure its bandwidth “backbone” and wireless Internet capabilities were up to the task of handling the tests.

Preparing students
But another part of the equation has been preparing students to use all the new technology, such as providing keyboarding classes to younger students who might not yet be used to using a computer.

“My mantra to the principals has been that it doesn’t really matter what’s in the kids’ heads if they can’t get it through their fingers,” Winger said.

Winger also said the district has been conducting practice tests to familiarize both students and staff on the new assessment before pilot testing, which will start after Newhall district students return from spring break.

“There’s been a whole lot more work on accessing the sample tests to get staff and children acclimatized to what those items look like and what the tools are in the tests themselves,” Winger said.

The testing windows for the Newhall and Saugus districts, as well as the Sulphur Springs School District, open this week. But since students in those districts will be out of school for spring break, field testing is not expected to start until they return.

Already ongoing

Testing windows have already begun for two local districts  — the Castaic Union School District and the William S. Hart Union High School District.

“As of today, over half of our schools have started our tests and, as of right now, the only problem that’s arisen has been user concerns, like forgotten passwords and logins,” David LeBarron, director of curriculum and assessment for the Hart district, said Thursday.

Janene Maxon, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Castaic district, also said the process has been smooth in the early going.

“We were preparing for the worst because we’ve never done this,” she said. “The students have been really great — they’ve been focused and they have moved through it.”

Teacher training
Representatives from both districts said getting to this point has also taken a great deal of investment into their technology infrastructures and training for their teachers and staff members.

“That’s one of the outcomes of us going this way,” LeBarron said. “It’s forcing all schools to become much more current in their digital supplies.”

School district officials said they conducted “stress tests” of their networks to make sure they could handle a students logging on and using the network at the same time.

“It’s been pretty much smooth sailing,” Maxon said.

The Smarter Balanced assessments are aligned with Common Core State Standards, which are meant to place a greater emphasis on teaching core concepts, critical thinking and real-world applications of classroom concepts.

One of the bigger hooks of the Smarter Balanced assessments is the fact that, once fully online, they are adaptive — meaning questions on a particular subject will get gradually more difficult as students answer them correctly or get gradually easier if students answer incorrectly.

Officials say the new testing model could provide much more in-depth information on the aptitudes of each particular student, as well as a look into what subject areas they need to focus more on.

“That’s the appeal, and I think the future value of this test,” LeBarron said. “It’s not operative yet, but we’re all looking forward to see how it works and the information it can tell us about each individual student.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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