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Originally published Monday, March 17, 2014 at 7:52 PM

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Group developing school standards exams delays ‘field test’

A multistate organization developing high-stakes exams for the new Common Core standards pushed its 22-state “field test” back by a week, causing some last-minute schedule changes at several schools.


Seattle Times education reporter

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The organization developing new exams for public-school systems in Washington and several other states from Hawaii to Connecticut got cold feet late last week and delayed a trial run that was supposed to begin on Tuesday.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium informed Washington education officials late last Thursday that the “field test” of the new exam, which will be taken on computers, won’t begin until March 25, next Tuesday.

The exams — designed to measure student progress on the new Common Core standards for college and career readiness — will be given for real starting in 2015. They will replace the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) tests for grades three through eight in math and English.

More than a third of Washington’s elementary- and middle-school students are expected to try out the new tests and computer software during a period that closes June 6, with a makeup week June 9-13.

Because it’s a test of the test itself, the scores won’t count or be reported. Washington students in grades three through eight who take the new exam will be excused from taking the MSP math and English tests this spring.

The state expected about 180 schools to test-drive the Smarter Balanced exams over the first three-week period, which is now shortened by a week because of the delay, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

“Please know this decision was not made easily,” reads an OSPI email to districts. “Knowing that schools may have to reschedule their participation in the field test, the consortium wants to be sure the tests function well and are not disrupted once students begin testing.”

The email refers to “quality-assurance” concerns that Smarter Balanced wants to fix before launching the field test, but OSPI had no more details about what the problems were, said OSPI spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon.

Smarter Balanced executive director Joe Willhoft could not be reached for comment.

The field test covers grades three though eight, 11th grade and a sampling of ninth and 10th grades. Smarter Balanced expects at least 3 million students in 22 states to participate in this spring’s trial run.

The last-minute delay was especially disruptive for high schools.

The Highline School District had hoped to give two-thirds of its ninth-graders a chance to try the new exams this week — which was convenient because high schools already were adjusting schedules for sophomores who are taking state tests required for high-school graduation, said Alan Spicciati, the district’s chief accountability officer.

He said the delay cost the district a “golden scheduling opportunity” that may be difficult to replicate because of all the other tests that high-schoolers have to take in the spring, including the SAT, which on April 16 will be given for the first time in school to all juniors.

The delay shouldn’t cause a problem for Highline’s elementary and middle schools, he said.

“We think this is a great opportunity to get ahead of the game in preparing for Smarter Balanced and helping our students meet the higher standards with Common Core,” Spicciati said.

Seattle would have liked that chance, too, but its unique teacher-evaluation system requires administration of the MSPs every year. Trying the Smarter Balanced exams would have resulted in students getting double-tested, according to district officials.

Juniors at Ballard and Roosevelt high schools, who otherwise don’t have to take a state test this year, were scheduled to try the Smarter Balanced exam this week.

But after the delay, Ballard canceled the tests altogether, and Roosevelt is juggling its calendar to fit them in later, according to district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or jhiggins@seattletimes.com



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