Iowa considers new computerized tests for students

By The Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 23, 2015 at 4:41 p.m.



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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa education officials are close to adopting new computerized exams for students in the state's 336 school districts, but critics question whether the new tests are worth the cost.

The state Board of Education is likely to drop multiple-choice tests with paper answer sheets in favor of Smarter Balanced's adaptive computerized tests, the Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1EP95hp ) Sunday.

The new tests are needed to measure how Iowa students are doing compared to the new Common Core standards the state has adopted. The new tests are expected to be used first in the 2016-2017 school year.

Critics question the value of the $8.3 million tests because of the potential for technical problems, and the fact that school districts may have to upgrade their wireless networks to administer them.

"The argument for Smarter Balanced, it doesn't negate the fact that school districts don't have the money," said Jeff Moorman, an advocate with the Iowa for Student Achievement group.

But supporters say the computerized tests provide valuable information because they can change the difficulty of future questions based on a student's answers.

"You're able to ask more higher-order thinking questions," said Jo Ellen Latham, Southeast Polk's curriculum and instruction director, who sat on a state assessment task force.

If the Smarter Balanced tests are adopted, it will mark the first time Iowa students aren't taking exams developed by the Iowa Testing Program at the University of Iowa. The Iowa Testing Program is developing another version of its test that asks all students the same questions and employs a paper answer sheet.

"We don't believe adaptive has an advantage that justifies all the overhead required," Cathy Welch, director of the Iowa Statewide Testing Programs, which is part of Iowa Testing Programs.

Nearly all the public schools in Iowa have the minimum bandwidth needed to administer the Smarter Balanced tests, but experts recommend faster Internet connections. Between 58 percent and 89 percent of the schools in the state have the suggested connection level.

Upgrading those school connections would be costly, but that might be needed so groups of students can take the test at the same time.

"The costs associated with building and maintaining such networks are significant and can vary widely depending on the current state of the systems in each district," said David Dude in a memo on behalf of technology directors in the Urban Education Network of Iowa.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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The Associated Press

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