BANGOR, Maine — Bangor public school students may not be adequately prepared to take new standardized assessments associated with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, Superintendent Betsy Webb said this week.
During a school board meeting Wednesday night, Webb said Bangor schools did not get practice tests until January for the new Smarter Balanced Assessments that students will take next month.
She also said sample questions were hard to find because the testing consortium’s website was difficult to navigate.
“We have concerns that the test this year will [not] truly test students’ knowledge and that some of it may have been hindered by the technology and the process,” Webb said.
Unlike the old New England Common Assessment Program, the new tests are entirely web based, making students and teachers adapt to a new assessment format and straining the school system’s technology infrastructure.
School officials said only 1,000 students can be online at a time, meaning not all students can take the assessments at once. That lengthens the assessment period and raises concerns that the assessments will take away from instructional time, school officials said.
For elementary students, there are not enough computers, causing further rotation in the test schedule. According to Assistant Superintendent Robert MacDonald, students in third-grade through fifth-grade will use laptops that are five to six years old.
Webb said she is also concerned that students in lower grades will have difficulty entering the nine-digit identification numbers, as well as session identification numbers specific to each portion of the tests.
“We will give it our best shot, but I am uncomfortable answering anyone to say that this will be a true test of knowledge this first year,” she said.
The testing period is set for March 16 to May 29 to assess English and math proficiency for students in third-grade through eighth-grade, as well as high school juniors. According to MacDonald, the assessments are meant to “measure college and career readiness, emphasizing higher order thinking skills, as well as content knowledge.”
“For several weeks now, teachers at each of the schools, principals, others and the tech team have done some extensive preparation for Smarter Balance,” he said.
Webb called the intention behind the assessments honorable, saying they want children “to think deeply and to have higher-order abilities.”
She also said they hope to improve their technology infrastructure for the tests in coming years and stressed that there will be no way to correlate the results of the new assessments with NECAP results from prior years.
A total of 21 states, including Maine, have signed on for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Field testing conducted in those states last year with 4.2 million students at 16,549 schools showed that more than 60 percent of students in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades scored less than a three on a four point scale.
The assessments are one of two options for states to test student achievement in new math and English standards brought on by the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The standards were intended to bring more rigor to American classrooms, as well as align standards between states in response to a 2004 study by the American Diploma Project that showed 28 percent of high school graduates weren’t prepared for college math or English.
“It seems to me that Smart Balance is very different from all the tests, all the variations or changes that we’ve done before,” said Jay Ye, vice chairman of the school board. “My impression is that it appears to test deeper knowledge and higher-order thinking.”
“I hope we have enough time to train the students so that the results will actually be reflective of their achievement rather than reflective of whether they know how to take the test or not,” he said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.