When thousands of Idaho students sit down at computers Monday to take the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, they’ll face a different test than many of them have been taking since elementary school.
The state Board of Education selected a new testing vendor to administer the spring test because the old one no longer met federal standards. The state also changed the format of the test to include computer tools, including highlighter and ruler functions. The content of the test remains largely unchanged, but students now can skip questions or go back and change an answer.
“It just gives you a lot more help,” said Jacqueline Demers, a sophomore at Post Falls High School.
Like all high school students, Demers must pass the language, math and reading portions of the ISAT to graduate. She and her classmates spent a few minutes checking out the new test last week, as the testing vendor recommends all students do before sitting down for the real thing.
“The goal is to try to make it old hat,” said Eric Stoker, testing coordinator for the Coeur d’Alene School District.
Though some students, like Post Falls freshman Beth Whitfield, question the need for all the new gadgets, school officials say most seem to find them helpful.
“Kids seem to like the new format,” said Denise Durflinger, a computer lab aide at Post Falls High School. The addition of tools like the ruler seems helpful, she said.
“Before, I had kids using their mouse cords to measure. They got real inventive,” Durflinger said with a laugh.
But the changes haven’t made it easier on school officials administering the test. The ISAT must be taken on a computer with Internet access, and results aren’t available until a few weeks later. The old format gave results right away.
The span in which schools must administer the test has shortened, from six weeks to four, with one week for make-ups. Large schools will need every minute of the four-week period to test everyone, said Barney Brewton, director of elementary education for the Post Falls School District.
The new format has also caused angst because progress under the federal No Child Left Behind program is based on spring ISAT results. Teachers and principals who want to measure a student’s growth from fall testing to the spring will look at results of different kinds of tests.
“My concern is how do you tie a new test to the old test?” said Carl Morgan, superintendent of the tiny Avery School District southeast of Wallace.
The district has 14 students in the second through eighth grades who will take the test. Morgan said at first he worried his students would need to be bused many miles to find enough Internet-connected computers, but the school’s satellite access seems to be working.
“We think we’ve got the problem solved,” he said. “We had some real panics to begin with, but so far in our preliminary (testing), we’ve seen real good results.”
In the larger districts, the shorter testing window is a big logistical concern.
“All our schools have to start testing right at the get-go or they won’t get it done,” said Stoker with the Coeur d’Alene district.
And there’s no telling how long it could take students to complete the test, so school officials are left to estimate as best they can.
“With the old ISAT, we knew generally how long it took students to take the test,” said Warren Olson, vice principal at Coeur d’Alene High School.
Morgan said he needs to wait to see how this round of testing goes before passing judgment.
“Until we’ve actually gone through it for a cycle to see how students perform, it’s really hard to make a determination about whether it’s good, bad or ugly,” he said.