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April 1, 2013

WWMS assists in statewide study

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — The pencil-and-paper format of the MI-Access Functional Independence assessments will soon be history.

Plans are under way to move the test to an online format within the next couple of years.

Warren Woods Middle School recently partnered with the Michigan Department of Education’s Bureau of Assessment and Accountability in a special online project that is part of the state’s planned transition to online statewide testing.

Eight WWMS students participated in the study, and the BAA plans to pilot online Functional Independence (FI) assessment items during the 2013-14 school year. The study, held in February, was designed to determine how FI students access and respond to test items and interact with the computer.

“The Bureau planned the pilot,” WWMS Principal Jennifer McFarlane said. “They’re hoping to have it fully online as a pilot during the next school year. I’m hoping we will be able to pilot the entire test in 2014-2015.”

The FI assessments are based on Extended Grade Level Content Expectations and Extended Benchmarks; they are administered to students who don’t take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, MEAP-Access and the Michigan Merit Examination.

The FI is primarily for students with learning disabilities and who are in the Physically Impaired/Otherwise Health Impaired programs across the state. Warren Woods Public Schools, for example, houses POHI students from throughout Macomb County.

In an effort to better understand what types of online assessment items are accessible and what technology enhancements are available, students were tested on how they interact with computers through a cognitive laboratory study, referred to as a cog lab.

The BAA, in partnership with Questar Assessment Inc., developed a student-facing cog lab that consisted of several sample test items and embedded online tools in mathematics, science and accessing print, which is reading.

“We had several people from the state level and company that were here,” McFarlane said. “State and company representatives were observing the students as they took the test.”

Currently, the students who take the FI use paper and pencil, and sometimes need their teachers to fill in their answers for them.

“There are acceptable accommodations the state allows for,” McFarlane said.

The cog lab was designed to give students and their teachers an opportunity to provide detailed feedback about the experience and student reactions to the online testing platform. Teachers posed specific questions to students, recorded their observations, and solicited student feedback regarding their use of the computer tools and supports, and their ability to respond to the practice test items.

School officials looked at the study as an opportunity for staff and students.

“The WWMS Physically Impaired/Otherwise Health Impaired teaching staff appreciated the opportunity to work collaboratively with the BAA to ensure the development of accessibility tools that meet the unique needs of our students with physical disabilities,” WWMS POHI teacher Jenay Prytula said in a prepared statement. “The tools developed for the assessment will definitely help our students participate more independently than the traditional paper-and-pencil format.”

Data from the cog lab study will be used to develop proper online test practices, and the online support that students with disabilities need to access test items online instead of with pencil and paper.

The middle school’s participation in the cog lab also met the 2012-13 school year online pilot participation requirement of the Technology Infrastructure Grant, a grant program for the development or improvement of district technology infrastructure in preparation for the planned transition to online statewide testing.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.