Pinkerton Academy teachers are poised to start administering the Smarter Balanced assessment test this spring.
Academic Dean Chris Harper gave an update on the test, which replaces the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) test, at the Jan. 29 Winter Meeting for trustees, School Board members and administrators from the sending towns – Derry, Chester, Hampstead and Auburn.
Harper said the test, which will be administered mid-April through June, is a computerized test that has a secure browser and requires a keyboard. It has several new features, including an “Equation Editor.” “Did you ever try to type a mathematical equation in a standard keyboard?” Harper asked. With the “Editor,” students can do problems involving fractions and square roots.
The test also includes several levels of calculators. There’s the basic calculator; a more complex scientific calculator for seventh- and eighth-graders; and an even more complex calculating function for high school test-takers, including the standard calculator, a graphing calculator and a “regression calculator.”
There is also a “slew” of accommodations built in to the test for special needs students, he added. “In the past, if a student couldn’t read well, you would separate them out and read the questions to them,” he said. Smarter Balanced has accommodations for different languages, Braille and a speech-to-text function.
“The builders of this test,” he said, “have thought about a lot of things.”
The first test will help the administration gather baseline data, “and we’ll grow from that point,” Harper said.
In the question-and-answer period, Hooksett board member John Lyscars said he had heard concern from constituents about the kind of data collected from students.
“New Hampshire,” Harper said, “is the most conscientious state in the union regarding that. All the data that leaves the state is double-blind coded, with random numbers assigned. The data leaves the state for grading and when returned, it goes back to the school.
“The state is very secure,” Harper concluded.
Lyscars said when Hooksett did the pilot of Smarter Balanced, the School Board asked to see the test and was denied. “That is a red flag to me,” he said.
But Harper pointed out that he wasn’t allowed to see the questions on the NECAP, or for that matter on the SATs. “The tests are sealed for security,” he said. “All we’ve seen is the pilot.”
Harper also pointed out that there is no “test” in the sense the board members are used to. It’s a moving target, according to Harper. “There could be two kids sitting next to each other,” he said. “One gets the answer right and one gets it wrong. From that point, the test diverges and they get different questions. There’s no real ‘test’ that you can see in front of you.”
Auburn board member Alan Villeneuve asked about the “ramifications, consequences or rewards” of doing Smarter Balanced. “Is it tied to funding?” he asked.
Harper said that under the waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind act, the state’s schools do not have to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress designation. As this is a new test the state is not going to change its “focus school” and other designations, he said, adding, “We’re not 100 percent sure what it will look like when the data comes back.”
For now, Harper said, the test will be used to look at student learning, what the school offers and what it can do to help.
“My understanding is at this point the test has no effect on funding,” Harper said.