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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Smarter Balanced testing to be administered to juniors

Juniors will take the new Smarter Balanced test during the week of April 20, completing math and English portions that together last approximately eight hours. Underclassmen will not take any state-issued standardized tests this year, but in the future, they will also be given the test.

This marks the first year for the full implementation of the new Smarter Balanced testing, in which California will be one of 40 states to participate. According to the Smarter Balanced website, the new test “will go beyond multiple choice and include performance tasks [such as] research, writing and analytical skills.”

A practice test available on the Smarter Balanced website offers evidence of these changes. Questions in the math section ask students to answer interactive graph questions and explain their work. Similarly, the English section includes short-answer questions that ask students to draw conclusions and multiple-choice questions requiring analysis of quotations.

The test, taken on computers, adjusts the difficulty of questions for individual test takers based on their responses during the assessment. For instance, a student who correctly answers a question then receives a more challenging question, whereas a student who incorrectly answers a question receives a less challenging question.

According to the Smarter Balanced website, this type of assessment offers “an individually tailored set of questions to each student and can quickly identify which skills students have mastered.”

Last year, four sessions of approximately 90 juniors each tested in the library and research center. Assistant principal Brian Safine said that students did well despite technological issues.

“There were some slight problems with last year’s research center computers because students had to look down at the monitors,” Safine said, “[but] this year, the new monitors will allow students to read the tests at eye level.”

The school district is also looking to purchase Chromebooks so that additional students can test at the same time. The Chromebooks would also be used in classrooms during times they aren’t used for testing.

In general, seniors who took the Smarter Balanced test last year said that it is a more accurate assessment of students’ abilities than the previously administered STAR test.

“I think [the test ensures] that people are rewarded for truly understanding the material, not memorizing answers or randomly guessing correctly,” senior Kimberly Zai said. “For instance, instead of solely interpreting an author's work [during the test], you sometimes have to build off of it and write a paragraph in the same style as the author.”

Because last year’s test served as a pilot to assess the electronic testing format and question types, California did not release scores. This year, however, schools will receive the results.

Though this new form of standardized testing will take some adjusting to, Safine is confident that students can handle it.

“Saratoga students are used to doing the type of deeper analysis required in the Common Core [and] Smarter Balanced era,” he said. “The good work teachers and students do in the classroom will be preparation enough.”

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