April 24, 2007 in Idaho

ISAT creating time issues

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 

A new version of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test is causing headaches as students and teachers navigate the new format.

Students are allowed as much time as they need to complete the different components of the test, as was allowed with the old version of the test.

But many students are spending much longer on this version than school officials anticipated, leaving principals and test supervisors to adjust schedules and look at possible changes for next year.

“It’s a significant difference,” said Kathy Baker, principal at Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls. “We were caught a bit unaware as to the time requirements.”

All students in grades two through 10 are tested in math, reading and language, and certain grades are also evaluated in science. Each subject has multiple components, generally given on different days. Results of the spring test factor into whether schools make adequate yearly progress, a key component of the federal No Child Left Behind act that brings sanctions if unmet for consecutive years.

With the old version, students spent about an hour on each component, Baker said. With the new version, it’s about double that, she said. And even then there are exceptions.

“We’ve had a handful of students go over four hours long just on the reading part,” Baker said.

That causes a logistical headache for school staff as they have just four weeks to get all kids tested in the different areas and a limited number of computers to do it on.

“It’s pretty hard to plan because it’s unpredictable,” said Warren Olson, vice principal at Coeur d’Alene High School. You have no idea how long the kids are going to take, but you can’t necessarily just not schedule … it’s like scheduling room use anywhere else.”

About 10-15 percent of test takers at the high school are taking longer than the scheduled 1 1/2 hours, Olson said, leaving fewer computers for the students next in line.

Like any new thing, problems and kinks in the beginning are expected, said Saundra DeKlotz, director of assessment and federal programs for the Idaho state Board of Education. “Our contractors said most kids should be able to do the entire content area in about 90 minutes, but there are some exceptions to that. They have to know their kid,” she said.

The new test has changes that were prompted by suggestions from school officials, such as the ability for students to go back and change an answer after moving on to a different question. The new test also includes more questions, some that won’t count toward the final score, as the state is trying out new questions for possible use on future tests.

“People are just having to adjust,” DeKlotz said. “I think in the end, they’re going to be much happier with this test.”

Olson said the kinks in the testing time this round have given his staff ideas on how to change things in the fall. One thought is to make more computer labs available to accommodate kids who go over the estimated time. That would mean displacing the teachers who regularly teach in those rooms, but those are the issues building administrators like Olson are there to deal with, he said.

“It’s a typical day for me,” Olson said. “(The test is) all good; it’s just different.”

There’s been confusion about what to do if students take a break that’s longer than 15 minutes while taking the test. Baker and others were under the impression that school officials must call the state for permission to reopen the test if a student has been away longer than 15 minutes, but DeKlotz said that only applies if students leave a test overnight.

“It’s security. We need to have it on record that this was a legitimate reactivation,” she said.

DeKlotz said next year’s test will be shorter. That and the fact that it won’t be the first time schools have seen it should make things easier, she said.

But for the educators whose lives will be consumed by testing for the new few weeks, frustration is evident. “Personally, I think it’s a bit inhumane to have a child sit (in front of a computer) for hours on end,” Baker said. “Accountability is wonderful, and it has made our institutions better. However, how that accountability is implemented needs to be more carefully thought out.”

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