Pasco School District rolls out new test

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 12, 2013 

Washington's newest standardized tests are getting an early roll out in the Pasco School District.

The Pasco School Board approved having the district's elementary and middle schools take part in the final pilot for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, commonly called the TEST.

The state is inviting districts to try the new tests while forgoing the Measures of Student Progress, or MSP, which is being phased out after next spring.

Other districts are more reluctant to try the new tests on such a large scale, citing problems with last year's pilot and other issues.

Pasco school officials said they know there will be challenges but piloting the tests has benefits for students and teachers.

The TEST is aligned with the Common Core State Standards -- the new math and language arts benchmarks districts are required to have in place by the end of this school year.

All Washington students are required to take the TEST test, which is taken only online, beginning in spring 2015.

State education officials have offered districts the opportunity to forgo taking the MSP in the spring so more will pilot the new tests.

The pilot is meant to help test writers and state education officials fine-tune the exams ahead of their official roll-out.

Several Mid-Columbia schools, including a few in Pasco, participated in the first pilot last spring, though they didn't receive student scores afterward and still had to administer the MSP.

Flynn said school principals recommended the district participate in this new pilot because it would mean their students, who already are being taught on the Common Core model, won't have to take a test aligned with different standards.

Teachers and students also can become familiar with the new tests before the scores will be used to assess performance.

Mike Hansen, an assistant superintendent in the Richland School District, said he's not ready to trade-in the MSP before it's phased out.

He acknowledged the difficulty with the last pilot but added that the state won't guarantee waiving the MSP testing requirement with participating districts for several months, making it difficult to plan ahead.

As with last year, scores from the pilot won't be shared with the districts. Hansen said that means the districts will have less data to assess student performance and take steps to improve teaching and learning.

"I'm not sure I want to sacrifice that," he said.

Flynn said last year's pilot showed the tests take longer for students to complete.

The tests are conducted solely online, which strains technology resources and opens the possibility of glitches. Still district officials and board members felt the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.

"Hopefully they've improved on (last year's problems)," said Assistant Superintendent Liz Flynn.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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