Computer adaptive testing

Friday , February 03, 2012 - 2:37 PM

Rep. Brad Dee

Sometimes in the media, it is reported that the Legislature and public education officials don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye on public policy related to our schools. As in any public policy debate, there are always differences of opinion, but in reality everyone should be partners in public education efforts.

Rather than have an adversarial relationship, I have asked my colleagues in the Legislature to join with educators and other champions of public education to focus on our common goal of preparing students. I'm particularly excited this year about a bill that has both legislative and the State Board of Education support that offers a new way to help prepare students for graduation and the world of opportunities ahead of them.

For the past few years, the state has been running a pilot program on computer adaptive testing in a few districts. The results have been amazing. We believe this type of testing should be expanded to all schools in the state. If you haven't heard about computer adaptive testing (CAT) it is likely because you remember taking tests the same way I do; using paper and pencil with the questions predetermined before you even started the test.

The basic idea of CAT testing is that test items are selected by the computer to individually match the ability level of each student. The test is essentially "adapting" the difficulty level of each question on the test depending on the students answer to the previous question. The real-time results can better gauge the student's individual growth and knowledge than any type of testing previously available.

For example, a fourth-grade student taking a traditional end-of-level testing today is only tested on the fourth-grade standard, basically a medium level that the student is supposed to score. That same fourth-grader taking a CAT test could score at, above or below grade level. The test would give the teacher immediate feedback on whether the students reading skills were actually at a fifth-grade level based on the tests ability to ask increasingly difficult questions. A traditional test doesn't allow for questions to be added or changed mid-test.

With this new testing, we can more accurately measure an individual students growth through pre- and post-testing. Individual students capabilities could be assessed in the first weeks of school to immediately place students in appropriate skill level groups. Teachers and parents would have the feedback available to better teach a student and more effectively use teaching time and resources.

The fourth-grader in my example above would move to a group with higher reading skills and could immediately start working on new concepts and even better reading comprehension rather than spend time in a class repeating concepts he or she already has mastered.

This new testing type allows us to do the types of things teachers have always wanted to do, but haven't been able to do because the assessment tools just weren't available.

This will allow teachers to zero in on areas of the common core curriculum the student needs help with, or has already mastered. This type of advanced testing doesn't come cheap. It is estimated that HB15 will cost $6.7 million to implement and another $12 million in hardware for schools.

However, the State Board of Education and the Legislature are so impressed by the improved test scores and feedback from the pilot programs that we are committed to finding the necessary funding for this proposal.

A second bill, SB97, would allow school districts and charter schools to apply for matching grants to help them implement the CAT testing with additional software, computers, technical support and teacher training.

As you can tell, I'm very impressed with the testing and the results of the pilot project.

I'm excited that we are giving teachers better tools and that we are giving students the individual instruction they need to succeed in the classroom.

I foresee more accurate results from the pilot programs which will be reflected in better test scores across the entire state.

Brad Dee is the House Majority Leader. He represents House District 11, which covers portions of Davis and Weber counties.

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