Today I wrapped up training on PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) in Sioux Falls and took some time during a break to look into the Smarter Balanced test that is be developed to replace Dakota STEP tests. The Smarter Balanced tests are supposed to be designed to test students while aligning to the Common Core (More on that in a separate post). A preview of the test has been released for the general public to examine. I think that is a good thing. You too can take some of the practice questions for all levels in ELA (English Language Arts) and Math. The real thing will not role out until 2014-2015. I decided to walk through the practice test.
Recently Leo Kallis and Josh Vargas did a little back and forth over the Smarter Balanced tests. At issue were the types of questions that will be on the test, the length of the test and who is actually writing the test. The Smarter Balanced website states that the high school portion of the ELA reading will take approximately 4 hours to take (3 1/2 hours for 6-8 and 3-5). I think this is a little optimistic. I have looked over the ELA portion and it will take longer. If it doesn't, then the students are not putting forth a true effort in answering the questions. I also tried a little experiment with my son who just completed the third grade. He scores very high in reading. To read on passage and answer four of the questions, it took him approximately ten minutes. (He only made one mistake in ordering sentences of the plot, but the directions were unclear and I think that threw him.) If you were to extrapolate from the very short experiment (he wanted to go to the pool), he would need to answer approximately 40 questions and it will take him 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes. The numbers for smarted balanced total time is based on the idea that he will be done in 1 hour and 30 minutes. They do provide 30 minutes for "In-class activity" which is for bathroom breaks and a chance to get up and move a little bit. My son is also ADHD and asking a third grader to sit on a task for an hour and thirty minutes will be impossible. That will require frequent breaks which add to getting them back on task time. I think it is more accurate to put the figure for the tests at 9+ hours as Kallis suggests. That does mean 10+ hours for high school students. I know we needed about 2 more hours than suggested for the Dakota STEP test this year.
Leo also worries about the shift from fictional literature and too much emphasis on nonfictional literature. If you look at the blueprint for the tests, students will get twice as many questions dealing with non-fictional material than fictional. The students will also have a listening section (which may make their ears bleed. It reminds me of the narrator you heard on all of the still slide show presentations that required you to change the slide at the beep.) The listening sections are also non-fictional based. Then there is a performance task that which has one fiction, two non-fiction, a written component which will be based from non-fiction, and a listening section that I am sure will also be non-fiction. I do think Mr. Kallis and all literature teachers do have something to fear.
I encourage you to take the practice tests to see what our students will be doing in a few years and form your opinion. I do think that they are better than the Dakota STEP tests in some degree, but I don't think that they will be a true measure of a student's ability to succeed in life.
You can't get a score from the test. I was hoping to find out how it handled common responses on some of my short answer questions like "I don't know," "?," and of course "cause."