State education board looks toward test change

Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 9:59 PM
Sixth-grader Quincy Stover takes part in a practice session while preparing for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College or Careers tests at Fort Logan Northgate School in Sheridan in 2015. The Colorado Board of Education has decided to change the test by decreasing the amount of time they take and by requiring results to come back much more quickly, within 30 days.

Tests may be the last thing on students’ or teachers’ minds during winter break, but testing is on the agenda for the Colorado Board of Education, which wants a revision of its Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests just three years after adopting the current exams.

The revision will require the state to hire a new contractor who will design English/language arts and math tests for third through eight grades to take no more than eight hours combined and who will issue individual student results within 30 days of receipt of the testing materials.

“While I support a desire to ensure that assessments are less impactful on classroom time, I am concerned with the ever-changing landscape of assessment in our public schools in Colorado,” said Dan Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R.

“Consistent, comparable data is critical for schools and districts who continue to seek to improve overall academic performance. While PARCC may take more time, it tests relevant skills aligned to our state standards”

All three school superintendents in La Plata County have said they need to see three or more years of results to identify trends within their districts. After the CMAS tests, also known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, are administered in April, the English/language arts section will have been given for three years, but the math will have been given for only two because it was halved between Years 1 and 2.

“A lot of the performance tasks, applying a math solution to a real-world problem, were dropped because they were hand-scoreable and took so much time,” Snowberger said at the end of August, when the district’s overall scores were released. “Those are what our students are good at, so that hurt us.”

Some school administrators complained to the Colorado Department of Education that the modification didn’t speed the results up enough. The first year, the overall results were not released until the following December, nine months after students took the tests. Snowberger called them an “autopsy” of the previous year rather than results that could be used to inform changes and lead to professional development for teachers. By releasing them in late August, the nine months was cut to four, but cohorts had already progressed to the next grade. Individual student results were not released until early October.

“I certainly would prefer we stay the course until a better solution is available,” Snowberger said, “or we allow PARCC to streamline its scoring process and timeline for return of results.”

Whether it’s even possible to return about 409,000 tests each for English/language arts and a similar number for math – the number of results for third- through ninth-graders issued in 2016 – or if speeding up test time and scoring affects the ability of the test to accurately measure student competencies was not discussed.

These aren’t the only assessment changes the state board has made.

The state also decided in 2015 to have all high school juniors take the SAT test instead of the ACT, which had been the required assessment for more than 20 years. While there is an equivalency between the two tests – a composite score of 20 on the ACT is equivalent to 1020-1050 on the SAT – the change required many school districts, including 9-R, to change the test-preparation class offered.

Instead of taking the PARCC tests in 10th grade, the state moved to the Preliminary PSAT for sophomores in 2016.

The board directed the Colorado Department of Education to issue a Request for Proposal no later than the spring, with the award to be announced no later than June.