Okla. State Supe: Cost, Time, Technology Drove Testing Decision

By Catherine Gewertz — July 08, 2013 1 min read
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We told you last week that Oklahoma has decided to develop its own common-core tests rather than use the ones being created by PARCC, the federally funded state assessment consortium to which it belongs. Now we’ve come across the memo that state Superintendent Janet Barresi sent to district superintendents, explaining the state’s reasoning.

Its key decision drivers—testing time, cost, and technological readiness—resonate in many states. So it’s interesting to see them laid out here, with telling details. A couple that I noticed? One: that 85 percent of the state’s districts were not technologically ready to administer tests online. Another: that developing its own tests will mean Oklahoma students will spend half as much time on testing as they would with PARCC tests.

We’ve written about this before, but all signs are that we’ll be writing about it for months to come: States are faced with a cluster of difficult decisions here. Even states that believe in the kinds of assessments the two consortia are designing have to bite down hard to tolerate the political, technological, and financial challenges they present. How many states will be able to sell the idea of more testing time? How many will be faced with having to spend more on tests than they currently spend, and how will that fly with policymakers tasked with the yes-no vote?

Some states might not have to face the more-time or more-money question. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, for instance, has released cost figures that it says represent a savings for two-thirds of its member states. PARCC plans to release cost figures later this summer.

But the point remains the same: For those states that will have to fork out more money, or take more of their students’ time, on tests, it’s a delicate proposition politically. For those that aren’t quite there technologically, staying the course could feel risky. But what will states give up if they pull out of the consortia, which have promised tests that are actually worth students’ time, because their activities are instructionally valuable?

Take a look at Barresi’s memo and see what you think about the road states face as they consider their testing futures.

From: Janet Barresi Date: Monday, July 1, 2013 1:50 PM To: Superintendent Listserv Subject: Issuing RFP to Develop Oklahoma Assessments in Math and English Language Arts MEMORANDUM TO: District Superintendents FROM: State Superintendent Janet Barresi DATE: July 1, 2013 RE: Issuing RFP to Develop Oklahoma Assessments in Math and English Language Arts Last week, I advised the leadership of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers) Governing Board that the state of Oklahoma will not be participating in the spring 2015 administration of the PARCC Assessment. Oklahoma will be issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to develop our own state assessments in English language arts and math for grades 3 through 8. We will work with our current testing vendor to align high school end-of-instruction exams to reflect the significant instructional shifts and the new rigorous state standards in English, math and social studies. I want to be clear; this is not a suspension of the implementation timeframe for the Oklahoma Academic Standards that include the Common Core State Standards for English and math. After talking with and listening to district superintendents, teachers and parents, I believe this is the best decision for Oklahoma's children. Our first priority was to deliver a very high-quality assessment that would provide the type of information our teachers, administrators, parents, the legislature and the public need to continue to support ongoing work in improving educational opportunities for each child. In addition, developing our own assessments will reduce the amount of time children are testing, reduce the risk of technology problems and save money. The State Department of Education estimates that upwards of $2 million a year in savings will be realized by developing our own assessments. The PARCC cost estimates for the exams will be released at a later date. Those cost estimates will not include formative assessments for teachers or multiple retakes of high school end-of-instruction exams. The Oklahoma assessments will include at least two formative assessments teachers may use on a voluntary basis each year and opportunities for students to retake the EOIs. The Office of Instructional Technology conducted a speed test in April to determine our technology readiness. The study revealed 85 percent of the districts were not ready for online learning opportunities. The state does not currently have the technological infrastructure to handle the amount of time on task for students as well as the enhanced test items as required by PARCC. These Oklahoma tests still will require students to fill in the blanks, drag and drop items, and manipulate objects on the screen, and this requires a higher level of technology. Many districts still need more bandwidth to handle these requirements, better connectivity and more devices for taking the examination. I am continuing to work with the governor and legislative leadership to find funding and viable options to increase technological capacity across the state. The final reason for this decision is the time on task issue. As you know, the PARCC recommendations will call for up to 10 hours of student engagement on test items over two testing windows. Our RFP is calling for about half that amount over one window. The 2014-2015 Oklahoma assessments: • Will be aligned to the new math and English language arts Oklahoma Academic Standards that include the Common Core • Will be reviewed by Oklahoma teachers • Will require about half of the time on task as the PARCC assessments and will be administered over one testing window. • Will be developed for students in grades 3 through 12 but only computerized for grades 6 through 12 as has been in the past • Will offer paper and pencil tests throughout the duration of the contract as opposed to PARCC only allowing paper and pencil for one year • Will be high-quality and display the same rigor as well as the same type of test items as the PARCC exams are expected to have • Will have performance based items as well as some multiple choice, although fewer multiple choice items than in the past Lastly, I am pleased the new testing vendor, when chosen, will be able to use the information we learned from participating in PARCC as we commission the new Oklahoma tests. We are grateful to the Oklahoma Educator Leader Cadre that has worked so hard to help prepare educators for the new standards and assessments. We will continue to work with them to support the development of the new Oklahoma assessments. I look forward to going down this new road of developing Oklahoma assessments for Oklahoma children. As we continue to work to prepare our children to be college, career and citizen ready by the time they graduate, these new Oklahoma grown assessments will greatly benefit them. As the RFP process continues, I will keep you informed. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you. Janet C. Barresi State Superintendent of Public Instruction

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.