Will Michigan schools be ready for online testing next spring?

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A readiness report shows 78 percent of Michigan schools can deliver online testing, but that number could fall to 35 percent when outmoded software is phased out.

According to the state’s top school testing official, the readiness report questions if the schools will be prepared by next spring when such testing is mandated.

The state is devoted to using the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium; a group of 23 states producing new mathematics and language arts tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards for the next three years.

Michigan Department of Education deputy superintendent Joseph Martineau said that about 78 percent of the state’s school buildings are equipped for online testing.

Although 78 percent of the state’s school buildings are ready, only about half of their school districts are considered prepared.

For a district to be considered ready for online testing come next spring, every building in the district must be test-ready.

The percentage also includes computers that run the Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft will cut off technical support for on April 8.

When Windows XP computers are cut from the report, the percentage of school districts ready for online testing will drop to only 35 percent.

Schools will be able to offer the Smarter Balanced exams on Window XP computers only until spring 2015. After then, these computers will be subtracted from the preparedness reports.

The exams will be computer-based instead of on a piece of paper like the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests that they will be replacing.

Waverly Community Schools Superintendent Terry Urquhart believes that the online testing will be beneficial to the students.

“Online testing is a more efficient method of testing and will be gauged to the type of student responses given,” Urquhart said. “In short, it will better determine student mastery or lack of.”

About 375 Michigan schools were set to take place in a field test of the Smarter Balanced exams this week, but the test was delayed because of concerns about whether Smarter Balanced could handle the nationwide field test, according to mlive.com.

Urquhart was not bothered by the setback, seeing as though his school district is not prepared for the testing yet.

“We need to update our technology infrastructure just to be able to have the capability to participate,” Urquhart said. “We are preparing every day for the content of the tests.”

Martineau and other witnesses testified before House subcommittees overseeing funding for the education department and the state’s school aid budget.

The committees are considering a $7 million budget request from Gov. Rick Snyder to bring in the new online testing system.

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) has said the tests will be too expensive for the state and districts are unprepared for the technology requirements.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in Smarter Balanced and whether our districts are prepared for it technologically or cost-wise,” McMillin said. “There’s no ability to change it. We’re one of 30 votes at SBAC, and if we want to change something because we don’t like some questions, and we get overruled, we’re not in control of the testing anymore.”

Lansing Township resident and mother to a Waverly High School student Linda Thomas does not think that Smarter Balanced is not necessarily a good change for students.

“I think that online testing for these kids is not a good idea,” Hayes said. “It complicates things too much. Technology isn’t always reliable, but a pencil and a piece of paper is. Why fix something that is not even broken?”

-Carley Johnston

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