This press release from the Montana Office of Public Instruction landed in my inbox yesterday. I meant to share it right away but ran out of time, and since I’m still short on time I’d better just get it up on the site so y’all can read what I read without further delay.

And here it is:

Practice of New Online Assessment

Helps Montana Educators Prepare for 2015

New Test will set a New Baseline for Student Achievement 

Helena, MT – This year, Montana schools maintained their AYP determinations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act from the 2013 school year due to a “double-testing waiver” obtained by Superintendent Denise Juneau. Montana students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 participated in the field test of the new, online Smarter Balanced Assessment aligned to the Montana Common Core Standards. A field test is a “test of the test”, not the students. Because questions may be revised or dropped after the field test, no scores will be reported for students, schools, or the state.

“The practice run of the new state test gave teachers and school leaders the opportunity to try out their technology, get a look at the style of the new questions, and work out potential scheduling challenges,” said Superintendent Juneau. “This test is more challenging than our previous state test and will set a new baseline for student achievement in Montana. We are in a strong position as we head into the first year of the new, online test in 2015.”

The Office of Public Instruction (OPI) contracted with the School Administrators of Montana and the Montana Educational Technologists Association (META), a professional organization for K-12 technologists, to assist schools with technology readiness for the field test. The vast majority of Montana schools have the technology and infrastructure in place to successfully deliver the online test in 2015. Only four schools were identified as high needs schools, and only one of those schools was unable to successfully complete the field test.

The Office of Public Instruction also solicited feedback from teachers and administrators about the test and the testing process. Montana teachers and administrators who felt the most positive about the test reported accessing tools, training and information from the OPI, using the practice test provided by Smarter Balanced, and developing strong teams at the school level who provided training and support to test administrators.

Common challenges faced by teachers and staff administering the field test included: use of the online embedded accommodations for students with disabilities, technical glitches with logging in or getting locked out of a session, scheduling challenges, and the need for more training before administering the test.

“Between now and next year, our office will continue to work with Smarter Balanced and schools to ensure that the issues uncovered during the field test are addressed so the test is valid, reliable and fair for all students,” said Juneau. “Additionally, we will continue to involve Montana educators in K-12 and higher education in the development and planning of the 2015 test, provide training to teachers and administrators, and develop communication tools for schools and parents.”

Nearly 98 percent of Montana students in grades 3-8 and 11 participated in the field test.  Nationally, 4.2 million students participated in the Smarter Balanced field test. Between now and the 2015 test, Smarter Balanced will:

  • Review question responses and flag questions for editing or deletion;
  • Review directions for test items and performance tasks to ensure they are clear for teachers and students;
  • Analyze teacher and student surveys conducted by states and publish a report; and
  • Launch a usability, accessibility, and accommodations guidelines committee to review tools and accommodations.

BACKGROUND: The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness. As a Smarter Balanced member state, Montana plays a key role in the development of next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators from Montana have participated in the development and review of assessment items, achievement level descriptors, and test specifications. The Smarter Balanced Assessment will replace existing state assessments in English language arts and mathematics, providing an academic checkup by measuring students’ real-world skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. For more information, download OPI’s Frequently Asked Questions about the Smarter Balanced Field Test: http://www.opi.mt.gov/PDF/Superintendent/Field_Test_FAQs.pdf. To access the nationwide results of the Smarter Balanced field test, go to: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Field-Test-Report.pdf.