State’s switch worries some

By Dick Mason, The Observer July 12, 2013 11:06 am

Area educators concerned about upcoming changes in Oregon’s standardized testing 

Education officials and teachers in the area have differing concerns about upcoming changes to the state’s standardized tests. One thing they all agree on, though, is that the transition will be challenging.

The state is changing the standards public school students must meet to graduate from high school beginning in 2014-15. Presently, students must meet Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test standards for reading, math and writing, or do the equivalent on another exam or evaluation, to earn a standard high school diploma. The OAKS test standards will be in place in Oregon for another year before being replaced by the more challenging Smarter Balanced Assessment test, which is aligned with Common Core Curriculum standards.

During the 2013-14 school year, teachers will be focusing on getting some students to pass the OAKS test, while simultaneously laying the groundwork to help others pass the Smarter Balanced Assessment exam for math, reading and writing. 

Imbler School District Superintendent Doug Hislop said this will be an important balancing act for teachers to achieve. The superintendent said it would be a mistake to not begin addressing the Smarter Balanced Assessment standards until they are in effect.

“It would be like a football coach waiting until Friday afternoon (prior to a Friday night game) to tell his team that the rules have been changed,” Hislop said.

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment will be more comprehensive than the OAKS test, said La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.

“It sets a more rigorous standard,” the La Grande superintendent said. “There will be higher expectations academically.”

The La Grande School District began aligning its curriculum to the Smarter Balanced Assessment about two years ago to prepare for the switch from OAKS.

Still, Glaze said, that switch will be challenging, especially this year because schools will be accountable to OAKS standards while preparing students to meet Smarter Balanced Assessment benchmarks.

“It will be a year transition,” Glaze said. “There will be adjustments and growing pains. It will be a challenge.”

La Grande High School science and math teacher Pat Des Jardin is worried that the Smarter Balanced Assessment testing program will heighten student stress because retaking it will be difficult. 

“It is a high stakes testing model,” Des Jardin said. “…I fear that it may exacerbate testing anxiety.”

He explained that high school students can take the OAKS tests on the same subject up to three times in a school year.

By contrast, students will likely be able to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment set exam just once a school year during a 12-week window at the end of the academic year. Freshman, sophomores and juniors who do not pass a Smarter Balanced Assessment exam will be able to retake it the next year, but seniors who do not pass the test will not have this safety net unless they come back for a fifth year of high school.

Students who do not pass the Smarter Balanced Assessment, though, may have the option of taking the SAT exam and earning the equivalent of a passing score. It’s not known for sure if this will be an option. 

“There are a lot of unknowns. As a teacher this scares me,” Des Jardin said.