By Casey S. Elliott
New required online testing will require some adjustments for students, especially those not very familiar with typing or computers, officials say.
A field test process to introduce the assessments to districts appears to be going smoothly, area district officials said.
Ohio’s “Next Generation Assessments” – all of the new online tests – will start to be used in the upcoming school year. The assessments have two parts, performance-based and end-of-year assessments. The performance-based tests consist of items in which students must explain their thinking in writing and are scored by humans. The end-of-year tests are multiple-choice and short-answer and are scored by computers, said Graham Local Schools Curriculum Director Becky Gerardi.
The performance-based tests are expected to be taken in March, while the end-of-year assessments would be in May, she said. The window to complete the tests is expected to be longer to complete each assessment. Early suggestions give 20 days to complete the testing, she said. This differs from current testing, in which Ohio Achievement Tests (OAAs), for example, take approximately two hours to do with testing spread over about a week, Gerardi said.
The Ohio Department of Education conducted field tests in schools across the state beginning in March to get feedback on the tests and online testing procedures. The field tests will continue through the beginning of June. Online field testing from this year will not affect the Third Grade Reading Guarantee; Guarantee scores will come from the 2013-14 OAA grade 3 Reading test.
Tests in mathematics and English Language Arts will be based on Common Core standards. Science and Social Studies tests will be based on new Ohio learning standards. Those two subjects are not included in the Common Core. Third-graders are required to take tests in fall and spring to meet the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. The Guarantee is a new Ohio requirement ensuring all third-graders are proficient in reading, or they will remain in that grade until they pass the test.
The new online assessments affect kindergarteners and students grades 3 to 12. The kindergarten test is usable by both tablets and computers, Gerardi said.
Other online tests include performance-based and end-of-year Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests for English Language Arts and Math for grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Grades 4 and 6 also take performance-based and end-of-year online tests in Social Studies, and grades 5 and 8 take performance-based and end-of-year online tests in Science, Gerardi said.
High school students take end-of-year and performance-based assessments online (after a student completes the course) for Science (Biology, Physical Science), Social Studies (American History, American Government), PARCC English Language Arts (I, II and III) and PARCC Mathematics (Algebra I, II and Geometry).
Paper-based tests will be given to first- to third-graders and high school-age students. These paper-based tests include reading and writing assessments for first- to third grades. First and second grades also take a math assessment. High school students are required to take paper-based Ohio Graduation Tests in English Language Arts, Writing, Science and Social Studies.
Area school districts participated in some of the online field tests for the new system, and all reported it went “smoothly.” Officials did express concern that students will have to become more familiar with computers and technology at earlier grade levels to adequately perform the tests.
“We have a few glitches to work out, but everyone who was selected to participate was able to take the pilot,” Gerardi said. “The two new systems are quite detailed as far as preparing for testing and will require more time to set up than the old tests do.”
Triad Local Schools’ Field Test Coordinator Deborah Hayslip also reported no problems: “Students handled the switch to computer-based testing very well, in spite of lengthy directions and session times.” She added they will participate in two end-of-year tests in grade 4 math and grade 11 English Language Arts.
Gerardi said students will need some computer knowledge and typing skills to take the new tests. They will have to be taught online testing and reading skills. She added she thinks it is too soon for most schools in Ohio to try online testing.
“I’m not sure it is fair to assess students in a way in which they are not taught daily, that is using technology one-to-one,” she said. “I believe that our district, or even state infrastructure, is not reliable enough for such high-stakes testing. Too many things can go wrong.”
Officials said they expect test scores will drop, partially because the new standards raise what is considered “proficient” and partially because students will need to adapt to new ways of taking tests.
“In addition to the increased rigor, consider students ‘dropped in’ to new standards at upper grades who may have larger gaps or new skills to master,” Hayslip said.
Hayslip said she expects online testing will work well for most students, but agreed that specific technology skills will need to be taught in early elementary grades, such as keyboarding, getting used to reading lengthy passages on the screen and navigating multiple places to complete questions.
Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools’ retiring Superintendent Dr. Dan Kaffenbarger and new superintendent, Danielle Prohaska, said they think the changes will be good, as long as the new format doesn’t impact a student’s ability to show individual knowledge of the material. Both believe the changes should speed up the district’s receipt of student test data, though they do not know if it will speed up district report card reporting. Currently, report cards are released in August for the prior school year.
West Liberty-Salem Local Schools Superintendent Kraig Hissong said the testing change in format, especially with typing, will need to be addressed in years to come.
“The typing demands (stamina and familiarity) are possible challenges as compared to hand-written responses students are accustomed to,” he said.
Hissong said he thinks testing online will speed up getting test results to the district, but expects students will need some instruction on test-taking on computers.
“Exposing students to increased opportunities to respond to various question types of electronic devices will be critical,” he said. “Students need to learn the question types, online tools built into the testing system, stamina typing, familiarity with keyboards, etc. It’s a different modality for testing. All stakeholders will need time to adjust and gain understanding.”
None of the area school districts said they needed to purchase new computers, but several have been implementing bring-your-own-device programs or piloting using iPads in the classroom. Even if they had to purchase new computers for the testing, the state is not providing funding to do so, officials said.
Urbana City Schools officials could not be reached for comment.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 219 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.