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April 24, 2013

Berkley schools volunteer for Smarter Balanced pilot testing

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

BERKLEY — In the 2014-15 school year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment test will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program in testing students in English language arts and mathematics.

The new testing will be in line with the Common Core State Standards and taken in 24 states across the country, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This spring, however, the Berkley School District is getting a sneak peek by volunteering to take the Smarter Balanced pilot test in April to provide feedback to the assessment company and allow students, administration and the teaching staff a chance to see what lies ahead.

The Smarter Balanced test will all be taken online in the spring with some instructor components mixed in. Third- through eighth-graders began the two-week testing period April 15 and Berkley High School ninth-graders will begin April 29, with each grade testing in only one subject during the pilot period.

“We really saw it as a learning process for our teachers and our students, as well as our district staff,” said Mary Beth Fitzpatrick, assistant superintendent for the school district. “The technology staff is learning a lot about the upload of student data that precedes the test and how our computer and our network will function in a test environment.

“Our teachers are learning to proctor a lot of tests like this on a screen, instead of pencil and paper, and our students are learning and having a window into this new experience, (so it) won’t hit them for the first time in 2014-15.”

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is one of two tests to be government-funded across the country in the 2014-15 school year, with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers being the other. For now, the MEAP will still assess students in science and social studies.

Anderson Middle School principal Vince Gigliotti said allowing staff and students a chance to see the new test earlier can only yield positive results.

“I think one of the pieces that was important was allowing students to get an idea of what the format will look like and interface with computer devices to do the testing,” Gigliotti said. “I think from the staffing point of view, anytime we organize standardized testing, a lot of protocol has to be followed, and this is new for us, so it is like getting a little advanced look at what protocol will look like and what we can anticipate being prepared for.”

With the new tests being administrated on computers, Gigliotti said he doesn’t feel students will have a problem adapting, as technology has been a part of their education for some time. In replacing the MEAP, he said the new assessment would allow for more feedback and more opportunities.

“I think accountability is good for everybody and we need to gauge whether students are learning the curriculum in front of them,” Gigliotti said. “This creates a standardized piece we can use in making good decisions on how to work things. With many different educational institutions taking part, we will get more timely feedback and use that to impact instruction sooner than in the past.”

Fitzpatrick acknowledged that the Smarter Balanced Assessment will have benefits once it is implemented in 2014-15, but the pilot provides an opportunity not only for the district to see what the new testing is like, but also compare the current curriculum against what students will be tested on.

“No one wants to take a test on something they haven’t learned about,” Fitzpatrick said. “We in Berkley do not support a single test marking a student as achieving or not achieving; it is one piece of data. But, we are also learning what the test is measuring, which can help us make adjustments to our teaching and learning.

“If the test is measuring a completely different experience than our students are getting every other day of the school year, then there is a misalignment.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.