School district in trial run of new testing standards

Academics: Peninsula schools opt in to trial of test for nationwide Common Core Standards

of the GatewayDecember 11, 2013 

The Peninsula School District will be part of a trial run of the new Smarter Balanced test, part of a move from state requirements to the nationwide Common Core State Standards.

Washington is one of 45 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The aim is to have consistent standards across the states and to better prepare students for two- and four-year colleges, according to the standards’ website.

The standards are in language arts and math, with an emphasis on deep, critical problem solving.

Washington adopted the standards in July 2011 and expects to be fully implemented during the 2014-15 school year.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium consists of 22 states. The test will replace the state Measurements of Student Progress test, or MSP. The state gave school districts the option of participating in the pilot of the new test, and the Peninsula School District opted in, said Jennifer Dempewolf, the district’s director of assessment and accountability.

There’s advantages to doing a trial, Dempewolf said. The school district gets proactive by bumping up the transition, she said. Scores from the trial won’t be counted, but the test will give students a feel for it, she said.

Smarter Balanced will have its trial with grades three through eighth this spring. Eventually, it will be a graduation requirement that will be taken during students’ junior year.

School district teachers are making the transition to the new standards that emphasize critical thinking, depth of knowledge, analysis and problem solving. The test will gauge that transition, Dempewolf said.

For example, a language arts question on the new exam will have students read passages and write critically and in-depth responses, she said.

But it’s not just a switch from what’s on the annual assessment. Pens and paper will go out the window, too.

Smarter Balanced is a computer-based exam, and the school district is making an effort to prepare all classrooms for the test.

One reason for opting into the trial is to troubleshoot technology issues, Dempewolf said.

Smarter Balanced uses a computer system to gauge learning level based on how questions are answered. That means a third-grader who is proficient at their grade level may start to see fourth- and fifth-grade questions. Also, different screens for each student will help to prevent cheating, Dempewolf said.

“It really hones in on the exact level the (student) is performing at,” she said.

The computer questions also allow for a quick turnaround with results. That’s better for students, teachers, administrators and parents, said Dempewolf, who added the results will be more than numbers, they will be descriptions of the student’s learning level.

The test is new, so there won’t be an individual score as part of the field test, Dempewolf said. Scores will be reported to the state but will not count until the 2015 implementation.

Smarter Balanced also comes with interim testing linked to Common Core and distributed earlier in the year, rather than only a year-end test, Dempewolf said.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the classroom, Dempewolf said. While it’s a daunting process to overhaul testing standards, she has “high hopes.”

Dempewolf thinks it’s an improvement over the MSP because it deals with performance tailored to students and has implemented benchmarks. It’s meant to tie to the classroom, not take time away.

“We don’t test just to test,” she said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen. miller@ Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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