vice— to get through a portion of the math assessments
that will be introduced in that time frame four
or five years from now.
“ One of the big concerns that we’re trying to address
is, how do we allow students to express their mathematical
reasoning?” Alpert states. “ Some students do
that with words, some students do that with symbols
and equations, some kids do it with pie charts and bar
graphs and little X’s and whatnot. So for students to
be able to describe not only the answer, but also how
they derived the answer, requires a degree of flexibility
that a mouse really doesn’t work too well for. If we want
to capture that information electronically to reduce the
costs of scoring and enhance the quality of our assessment—
make it even more meaningful— then we have
to chart out a pragmatic path towards requiring a device
that supports students and allows them to demonstrate
The path SBAC is currently following makes tablets
optional for now; but that may change whether schools
are fully ready or not. To make the shift in direction
easier, tablets may be only required for upper grades
at first, especially if the testing agencies find out that
touch- based devices are more common there than in
lower grades, Alpert adds.
SBAC is going even further than that by saying that
some specific portion, say 25 percent, of a math test
might require a tablet. It’s possible that a more traditional
form of a test might stop for students when they
come to a particular section. At that point, the test administrator
would hand them a touch- based device to
do that portion of the exam.
“ So it’s not a one- to- one issue. Every student doesn’t
need to have [ a tablet every moment of testing],” Alpert
points out. “ We want to create options where we can
enhance the meaning of the assessment, but still be
aware that districts’ budget issues aren’t going to ease
up any time soon.”
To fully understand the impact of variations in computing
devices, SBAC is running usability tests, in which
students try out different kinds of test items on different
kinds of devices and then are asked a series of questions
about their impressions. For example, how important
is the type of keyboard made available to the student?
If a test taker is expected to type out a response
to a question, which one is easier to use: a traditional
“ mechanical” keyboard or a virtual one? If students are
used to composing on paper, asking them to perform
on a keyboard may put them at a disadvantage.
One company with a stake in the outcome is Pearson.
FEATURE | assessment
IS BYOTD ( BRING
YOUR OWN TESTING
In a survey earlier this year, the Pearson Foundation
found that ownership of iPads had quadrupled, rising
from 4 percent in 2011 to 17 percent at the same point
in 2012. Is it possible that K- 12 students might one day
take high- stakes tests on their own devices?
While Tony Alpert, the chief operating officer for the
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, doesn’t
rule it out, he thinks the hurdles would be quite high.
Presuming that the device lockdown and other security
issues could be addressed on a student device, trying
to distinguish which non- school devices to allow and
which ones to reject would place an additional burden
on the testing administrator or proctor, “ on top of what’s
otherwise a pretty hefty schedule.”
Second, there are risk factors for the consortia to
consider. If a district or school decides to give BYOTD
a try and then fails in its efforts to secure the test, every
single exam item issued to students would be put at
risk. Since adaptive testing decreases the likelihood of
any two students getting the same exam or the same
questions, a very large set of items conceivably could
be removed from the pool altogether.
But it’s possible, Alpert notes, given enough urgency
by the states making up each consortium, that one or
another could one day take on the challenge of creating
a default list of policies to be adopted by a school or
district “ if they wanted to go that route.” However, the
policies would have to be general enough “ to work for
everyone” and specific enough to work for anyone.
| SEPTEMBER 2012 20
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