Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smarter Balanced Pilot: How Will the Testing Be Given? Can You Get Out Of It?

Read Part I:
Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Read Part II:
Smarter Balanced Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

Read Part III:
What is in the Smarter Balanced Test?

Part IV: How Will These Tests Be Given in the Ann Arbor Schools? What Are the Likely Impacts?

Reduced learning for freshmen, sophomores, and seniors

To begin with, each school in Ann Arbor has been given some latitude in how the tests will be administered. In some buildings, the principals may choose to shorten the other classes in a day, and clump the tests at one time (for all the juniors). In other buildings, the principals may choose to pull out the students only from their English and Math classes.

Either way, you end up interrupting the other classes. For example, in the case of math, where students may be a year ahead, at grade level, or a year behind, an Algebra 2 class may have sophomores, juniors, and even a few freshmen or seniors. So when you pull the juniors out of the math class for the pilot test, will the teacher continue to teach the other grades? If they teach them something substantive, the juniors lose out on the lesson and the teacher will likely need to repeat it. If they don't teach the other students something substantive, then it's likely a waste of time for the others. Either way, that is a lose-lose situation.

Another choice is to change the length of time for the class periods. In that case, every class would meet on a certain day (say, for 35 minutes instead of the usual class period). If that happens, then every class is shortened, and the other grades also have less time in school.

In the winter, when the schools gave the (mandatory) MEAP to juniors, my son (a freshman) had a couple of days off in school, and another day where the classes were half an hour long. Whatever you think of the testing itself for the juniors, that was definitely a waste of time for him.

Access to Computers

Probably the other largest area of concern has to do with access to computers. At the comprehensive high schools I think there are 350-400 students in the junior classes. In order to take the test, every junior needs a computer. This is between 10 and 15 classes worth of students. Can the schools even give every junior a test at the same time? Do they need to commandeer every mobile computer lab? Take over all the general purpose computer labs? During that week (just like during the NWEA MAP test, which will be given in the elementary and middle schools in May, again), other students won't be able to use those computers for research, powerpoints, web site creation, or computer programming.

Notification of Parents

Parents were notified immediately before spring break. A friend sent me the notice that Skyline parents got. Here is a copy of the letter. And here is a copy of the "Smarter Balanced" fact sheet.

I personally thought the letter was pretty reasonable. (I couldn't tell if it was only sent to parents of juniors or to all parents--it reads like it was sent to all parents.)

But one friend whose children are at Skyline had a slightly different reaction:

REALLY????? MORE testing for Juniors? And they make it sound like we've won a prize!
Dear Valued Skyline Families,
Skyline High School was chosen by the Michigan Department of Education to participate this spring in the pilot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  (Emphasis added.)

At Skyline, the principal (Cory McElmeel) writes:
For our school, students in 11th grade have been selected to take the pilot test in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The mathematics portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 4th and 5th periods on Tuesday, April 15th and Wednesday, April 16th.  Students with accommodations will take the mathematics assessment during 1st and 2nd periods on those same days.  The English language Arts portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 1st and 2nd periods on Tuesday, April 23rd and Thursday, April 25th and during Skytime on Wednesday, April 24th.  Students with accommodations will take the English Language Arts assessment during 4th and 5th periods on those same days.

So, the letter is not the problem--but you might think it's a problem that students will lose a couple of hours of school on four different days. And as I mentioned, that cannot help but affect students in the other grades. Or, as a second friend wrote me, 

Here’s my beef:  Juniors just had a bunch of testing in mid-March, which came the week before final exams. Now here were have another bunch of testing, coming just a few weeks before AP exams.

The Solution Is In Our Reach: Opting Out Is Easy

Now, the real reason I said I feel the letter is reasonable? Try this part of the letter: 

Participation is voluntary and confidential, and your child’s grades will not be affected by his or her participation. . . If you do not want your child to participate in the pilot or if you have any questions regarding your child’s participation, please contact me.

In other words--the district is making it very easy to opt out of this test. Just email the principal of the school your child is in, and say, "I do not want you to administer the Smarter Balanced test to my child."  

And by the way--the NWEA MAP test is coming soon to an elementary or middle school near you, and you can employ the "opt out" strategy for that test as well. It's not mandatory. 

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