Smarter Balanced approaches as the new standardized test

Every junior or senior is advised at one point to take the SAT or ACT, but now a new standardized test is joining the ranks. For those tired of the past state method for testing student’s proficiency in essential skills (the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or the OAKS) the news of a new test may brighten your day. But for others this is another national standardized test that will bring with it a complex set of hoops to leap through.

This year HRV juniors will be faced with taking the new Smarter Balanced test. It will test students in reading, writing, and math from third to eighth grade and again as a junior in high school. This year the test is brand new and predicted to be bumpy.

The Smarter Balanced test has stirred up controversy over how it is run and what it will mean for students. With the new test comes the Common Core Curriculum that was adopted by Oregon in 2010.  It is more rigorous, and the test will be based on what is taught as part of the new curriculum. English Teacher Nan Noteboom expressed her concern testing students on material that is relatively new: “The Common Core Curriculum is very rigorous and it is a twelve-year curriculum,” said Noteboom. “It’s unfair for you to take a test over a twelve-year curriculum when you haven’t been taught it the whole twelve years.”

There is also a lot of concern over the length of the test, which takes approximately sixteen hours to complete. The test will take away from students’ class time and displace many classes that need computers to complete their work. There are 343 juniors who must be tested between May 12th and May 29th. Librarian Ann Zuehlke is in charge of scheduling all testing on computers and is currently working to reserve the computers needed. Seven computer labs will be reserved, approximately 207 computers, displacing classes that usually use those computers. “Those seven labs cannot be used by any other class during the first half of each of those days,” Zuehlke said about the issue. “And some of those classrooms currently have all day classes in them.” Many teachers will have to be repositioned and Zuehlke says they hope to accomplish this with the least amount of stress to students and staff. The amount of time required is one of the reasons HRV junior Parker Irusta has decided to opt out. He states that he has already passed the requirements for graduation and that it would take time out of SAT preparations.

Such controversy has resulted in the publication of multiple Letters to the Editor on the Hood River News website both denouncing and supporting the new test. One comes from Hood River Education Association President and May Street teacher  Kevin Calkins in which he states in his letter titled “Standardized testing a disservice” that standardized tests have caused more harm than good: “Standardized testing in schools has become increasingly harmful to your children and your public schools for reasons including unwarranted stress on children, loss of instructional time, and narrowing of curriculum.”  In my interview with Hood River County School District Superintendent Dan Goldman I gave Goldman the ability to respond to this comment. He stated that he disagrees with Calkins that all standardized tests are bad. He argues that standardized testing can be beneficial in finding where one stands in comparison to others as well as providing accurate data about student ability. However, he agrees that narrowing curriculum does occur to meet the standards given, but he sees benefits in that narrowing. He used the example of reading stating that, “If we are just going to test reading on a test and if you don’t meet it as a school you’re going to get whooped by the state, The Oregonian [Oregon’s leading newspaper], then we are going to make sure that reading gets taught really, really, well. So it does tend to narrow your curriculum.”

HRV junior Payton Rigert added her voice on the issue in her Hood River News Column “Young Voices: Juniors subject to Smarter Balance ‘test run.’” In this article Rigert explains  how the test was developed and implemented. She believes it will have benefits, however still has several flaws, “I think the test will be a good way to measure graduation requirements,” Rigert says. She later added, “It’s a good idea on paper, but in reality it doesn’t seem like it works.”

One of the biggest controversies is the score that students will receive when the test is complete. Because of the higher level of difficulty of this test it is expected that only about 35% of students to meet or exceed. Such results can appear scary but there are other ways to pass essential skills than Smarter Balanced. Students can complete work samples that will enable them to demonstrate proficiency. Opting out is an option for students who pass their work samples.  However, if fewer than 95% of students take the test it becomes invalid and the school could receive a lower rating. Last year HRV was ranked a four out of five on the state report card and fewer students taking the test could result in  that score being dropped to a three out of five. The school’s rating affects how people view the school and make decisions about where to live.

Smarter Balanced is going to have to overcome many hurdles in the future. However, it is predicted that the test will be a better assessment of student readiness for college. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this test, however the issue is more complex than just good or bad. As Goldman put it, “Just like any tough issue in life, the gray is probably where the truth lies.”

By Hannah Hart

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