New testing system requires writing skills

GEMS pilots on-line program

— For Grangeville Elementary Middle School principal Alica Holthaus, learning is more of a process than simply memorizing facts. Middle school students learned this last year when they took the first Smarter Balanced on-line test.

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Alicia Holthaus

“For hundreds of years the amount of information that students needed to learn was pretty static. Teaching was about teaching students specific sets of information. Now the world of information is growing at an astronomical pace,” Holthaus said. “It is more important, now than ever, that students know how to find information, understand that information, make decisions about the validity of that information, and then share their new understanding with others.”

These are the things that employers have been asking for, Holthaus said.

“The common core standards will lead us in the direction of making kids career and college ready,” she said. “Research shows that most of the careers and degrees that are the future for kindergarten students have not been developed.”

Holthaus said she understands – and appreciates – parental concern for what kids learn.

“I care about our kids and I want what is right for them. I have spent lots of time studying the standards and what it will mean for our school,” she said. “I feel that the Idaho Core Standards are a positive change in the direction of education.

Last year, GEMS’ seventh-and eighth-grade students were tested using the Smarter Balanced pilot program in the language arts assessments. No date was received as the purpose of the pilot was to investigate the technological needs for the test and gather information about the amount of time it would take students to complete specific portions of the test, Holthaus explained. It her understanding that no data from this year’s test will be generated either.

“When I asked the students about the portion of the test that they took last year they said that it was ‘different.’ When I asked them what that meant they said that they had to type sentences to answer the questions,” she stated. “For some portions they were asked to organize or match information. There were no multiple choice questions. The Smarter Balanced test is designed to test what students understand instead of what they are able to recall.”

Sample questions for the Smarter Balanced test are available online at http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/ICS/.

The Idaho Core Standards are available at http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/ICS/.

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