Online Testing Looms, But Not All States Are Ready

Michigan and California are both experiencing debate over whether or not the states are ready for online testing in lieu of traditional pencil and paper testing. Some online tests can change their questions depending on student responses — adaptive tests — to easier or harder questions, making them more flexible than a paper test.

In Michigan, half of all school districts report that they are not ready for online testing, writes Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News. Fourty eight percent of Michigan's school districts and seventy eight percent of buildings are test-ready, claims the Report on Michigan Testing Readiness. The difference between the two figures, state education officials stated, is there because for a district to be seen as ready, all of its edifices must be ready.

Despite this, the Michigan Department of Education is going ahead with its computer based Smarter Balanced assessment test, even though the state lawmakers have not yet said which test they would support and fund. The Michigan Educational Assessment Program will also be online by the time students next take it, says Michigan State University's WKAR.

Chambers also states that opponents of the online testing program, such as State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton, said she and many others have wondered if the wisdom of going full steam ahead with a test that mandates complete online support to work is a good idea. Hard copy versions of all tests should still be made available, she suggested.

Meanwhile, California has an altogether different problem, details Elysse James of The Orange County Register. With the approval of the federal government, California is trying out some new standardized testing online — approval without which California would have lost billions in federal funds for schools. Because it is a maiden run of the new testing system, California does not have to give the results to the federal government for the two years of its pilot.

Not everyone, however, thinks that not reporting test scores for two years is a good idea. United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that it would be doing a disservice to students and their parents to not report the test results.

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan publicly chastised California in September, warning the state it risked losing federal funding if it suspended test scores for two years and extended the field test statewide. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that California could be labeled a ‘high-risk guarantee', or could lose $15 million in Title 1 money and $3.5 billion from federal programs."

The new tests emphasize the new Common Core Standards, which is a set of more rigorous math and English tests, suggests James. The trial run of the new, computerized testing system is set to catch problems within the testing system before students' scores actually count.

"Last year's pilot test included 200,000 students in 1,400 schools, including 101 schools in 23 Orange County districts. This year, an estimated 3.2 million California students in grades 3 to 8, grade 11, and some students in grades 9 and 10 will be field testing the Smarter Balanced Assessment."

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