Community Forum Looks at New Standardized Test
WETHERSFIELD - Wethersfield, like other districts throughout the state, is in the process of testing a new standardized test this spring, and parents who attended the Smarter Balanced Assessment, (SBAC) Community Forum March 10 at Silas Deane Middle School got a first look at it.

       Wethersfield Public Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Sally Dastoli and Curriculum Specialist Pauline Greer detailed the type of questions students will encounter on the computer adaptive assessment, which started the first three-week piloting period at the high school and middle schools last Tuesday. The elementary schools will run its tests in April.

       “We get to see how the students interact with the technology,” Dastoli told parents. “We also get to evaluate our technical capacity--testing our hardware and making sure we have what’s necessary.”

       Not only that, it is supposed to help students get used to a new assessment without the pressure of scores counting right away, Dastoli said.

       “We want the opportunity for our students to experience the test in a low stakes environment, so we can make adjustments for when it goes live,” she said.

       A key component to the digital assessment will be the adaptation of the test on-the-fly depending on how the student is progressing through it, Dastoli said.

       “If they get a question correct, they will get a question that’s a little more difficult,” Dastoli said. “If they get that right, they’ll get one that’s harder than that. If they get it wrong, they’ll get an easier question.”

       But, unlike the real thing, the pilot will not have the computer adaptive feature--something some see as problematic.

       “If we’re doing a test of the test, I don’t know why you’re not testing that aspect of it,” said Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Human Resources Timothy Howes, who attended the forum.

       Another concern is the technology itself. Dastoli implied that the district might not have enough devices for students to consistently do work on the same types, be it an iPad or computer. A $198,000 technology grant should help with that--the money is being used to purchase iPad keyboards and headphones, according to Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett.

       Limited access to technology at home for some students is another complicating factor, Dastoli said.

       “It’s probably our biggest barrier because students are not all on keyboarding,” she said.

       If the technology creates one barrier, it at least aims to eliminate a lot of others, Dastoli said. The fact that it is computerized allows for features such as enlarged fonts, audio dictations of the questions and translations for English Language Learners (ELL).

       Students taking the test will encounter a slew of different questions that includes traditional multiple choice, shorter open-ended questions, and longer, multi-step tasks, Greer said.

       “Are students able to problem solve?” Greer said. “Are they able to take a concept and apply it?”

       One parent asked how questions with multiple responses and/or steps are graded. In other words, what if a student gets most of it right, but not the entire thing?

       Each question of that type has its own rubric, so it is difficult to apply a blanket rule to all of them, Dastoli said.

       “I actually like being a part of the test pilot for the exposure,” said Carline Fazzina, one of the parents who attended.

       She added she expects it to be an adjustment for those used to the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) but not for younger students, for whom it will be the norm.

       “I think as we go along, kids who have never seen a CMT test will find it easier and say, ‘This is how it is,’” Fazzina said.

       And others are still apprehensive about the idea of a computerized test.

       “We have a long way to go as far as the technology goes,” said Denise Colbath, another parent. “My son said, ‘What if it freezes and loses all my data? Do I have to do it again? Cause it’s going to happen.’”