School testing to double in two years, despite technology problems last week
Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education said more than 9-thousand students couldn’t take tests last week because of technology problems – that’s three times what they first estimated. Contractor CTB McGraw Hill acknowledged server errors, with at least two other states reporting problems. In less than two years, Oklahoma will expand testing, as part of the new Common Core standards. It’s designed to test complete knowledge, with more interactive questions and answers, not just filling in the bubble. But are schools ready?
“Oh yes, we had a lot of problems with it. We only had about two sites that didn’t have problems with it. All the rest of them did.”
Glenda Choate is District Testing Coordinator at Edmond Public Schools. She saw how the testing outages affected students, and started to worry herself.
“Not having enough hardware, not having enough computers to be able to do that, and then not having the infrastructure within our system.”
By spring 2015, Oklahoma public schools will be in the middle of an overhaul of testing. The state is part of a group known as PARCC…ready? The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It’s a group of states, 21, plus DC, working together to develop questions, testing procedures, and more based on Common Core.
We’ve been doing the transition for multiple years, but next year will be the most crucial year because it’s the last year of the old standards.
Assistant State Superintendent for Accountability and Assessment in Oklahoma, Maridyth McBee is also the K through 12 point person for PARCC.
“But they’ll be packets for everybody so that they’ll be prepared to begin that transition. Which is especially important in math, there are a few topics that change grade levels.”
But perhaps the biggest change will be in time. Compared to this year, third graders will be in tests for at least twice as long. 9 different sessions, spread over two different testing periods – one in late February, early March, another toward the end of the school year. And that goes for most grades, up through juniors in high school.
As Stillwater Middle School lets out for the day, parents line up in their trucks, SUVs, vans, and some cars. And the opinions were just as varied as the vehicle choice. Deanna Henry has kids in 6th and 9th grade.
“Already we are seeing that teachers are teaching to the test. And so more and more time is taken away in the classroom to teach to the test, and so that’s my biggest concern.”
Or there’s Ashley Smith, with four kids scattered through the schools.
“I would be on board because we need to see where the kids are. All the studies you hear on the news, America is behind. So if that’s what we need to do to get the kids learning what they need to learn, I think that’s okay.”
Whatever thoughts there are on testing, there’s agreement all of it will put pressure on schools – not only on the teaching side, but with logistics. Class schedules may be shuffled, students pulled out of class to take a test, and more. Maridyth McBee recognizes its far from ideal.
“In the short run, it will definitely be a challenge for schools. As we move closer to having one device for each student or at least one for every two, then I think testing will be able to be scheduled within the class schedule without the major disruption that it sometimes causes now.”
Device – there’s one more key change. While students are more familiar with technology than ever, typing may be a different story. And those as young as fourth graders may have to type out a page long answer in a session. Back to Glenda Choate in Edmond.
“So we are already looking at how we can push keyboarding skills that type of curriculum farther down into our elementary grades.”
As to why parents may not have heard about this yet, Perri Applegate with Tulsa Public Schools has an answer.
“I actually have been concerned about talking to parents till I really knew what the blueprint was like for PARCC.”
With less than 24 months to go, things are far from settled. Florida is essentially acting as treasurer for PARCC – again, that’s the coalition of states putting the tests together – yet late last month their Education Commissioner indicated things aren’t a done deal. John O’Connor is a reporter with State Impact Florida.
“Has a lot of weight here, a lot of clout and so the fact that the Education Commissioner is saying ‘We’re going to consider other tests’ is kinda a warning shot to the folks in the consortium to get their act together, get these things moving.”
The state Department of Education says it has plans in place in case the coalition falls apart, and school administrators I talked to say they’re also watching developments around the country. Alabama dropped out of PARCC back in February, but since then, only rumblings of any more changes. So preparation goes on in Edmond and school districts across the state, as much as it can.
“We are doing as much. There’s a whole lot more we would like to do, we have lots of plans in place, but until the finances are available to be able to do that, it will make it very difficult.”
Up Interstate 44, Tulsa voters will decide if they want to authorize a 38 million dollar bond issue next Tuesday, with some of the money going to more computers – computers that would be used to take the PARCC tests.