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Incentive for students who score well on Smarter Balanced

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MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — High school juniors taking the Smarter Balanced assessment this spring or next may be spared from taking a two- to three- hour college placement test if they score high enough on the assessment and take college-level classes their senior year.

The state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission announced the new arrangement, which is being piloted for the next two academic years, in its March-April newsletter. The arrangement was adopted in February by Oregon's 17 community colleges and seven universities.

Many students meet the bulk of their high school graduation requirements by their junior year and slack off during their senior year, said Lisa Mentz, the Core to College Alignment director for the state's Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development.

"Their math skills especially degrade over time, and then they enter an institution and take that placement test and are placed in the lowest-level math class," she said.

Educators hope that, under the new placement option, students will be motivated to take an Advanced Placement or dual-credit English and/or math class their senior year and begin their post-secondary education in a credit-bearing class.

"Colleges will hopefully see better-prepared students who aren't starting out in developmental education," Mentz said.

Having the college placement test waived is contingent on scoring a 3 or higher on the Smarter Balanced assessment, which was fully implemented this spring and will be scored on a scale of 1 to 4. They would also have to earn a B or better in "an appropriate" mathematics and/or English language arts course in the 12th grade and enroll in one of Oregon's public universities or colleges immediately after high school.

"We expect that about 33 percent of students this year will get a 3 or higher in math (on the Smarter Balanced assessment), and about 41 percent will get a 3 or higher in English/language arts," Mentz said, citing the results of Smarter Balanced field tests in 21 states.

Nonetheless, some students and educators are skeptical about how the new requirements will be implemented.

Last Wednesday, Ashland High School senior Noah Bylsma took the college placement exam, the Accuplacer, to see if it would place him in higher level classes at Portland Community College than his SAT scores had.

Placement options vary depending on the college or university, but like Rogue Community College, PCC can place students in classes based on their ACT or SAT scores or, if the students prefer, their placement test results.

Because Bylsma is a senior and the Smarter Balanced assessment didn't roll out until this year, the new arrangement won't apply to him. (Smarter Balanced, like the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test before it, is mandatory only for students in the third through eighth grades, as well as for high school juniors.)

Bylsma, who met the state's math standards and exceeded its language arts standards on the OAKS last year, said that even if his score on the state assessment had eliminated the need for him to take the college placement test, he would have taken it.

"As a junior, I knew a lot less than I do now as a senior, so I don't think it would have been an accurate placement considering that I wouldn't be starting college for about a year and a half," he said. "It's weird to take a test to determine your placement in classes you won't be starting for more than a year."

Kori Bieber, vice president of student services at RCC, said the philosophy behind the new arrangement is good, but there are still a lot of technical challenges that need to be addressed, particularly at the community college level.

"Our primary challenge is that we don't require high school transcripts (like the universities do) so when a student comes to us, how will we physically get their (Smarter Balanced) score from the high school and how will we validate it?" Bieber said.

"We have thousands of students who come from our local high schools, and we're not set up to look at every high school transcript, and we don't have a system in place to intake those scores," she said, adding that community college officials will be making a recommendation to HECC about how to manage the data.

College placement tests are free and can be retaken once.

Although some students suffer from test anxiety and some people perceive the placement test as a barrier, it currently is the most efficient method for determining a student's knowledge in reading, writing and math "so they can be placed in a course where they feel comfortable but aren't bored," Bieber said.

"We don't want to place you in a class you are going to fail or a class that is going to waste your time and money," she said.


Information from: Mail Tribune,

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