Get ready to AMP it up!
Tamara Van Wyhe, Director of Teaching & Learning Support
For more than a decade, Alaskan educators, students, and parents knew that for three days in the spring, the daily routines of school would come to a standstill for the state’s Standards Based Assessments (SBAs). Held annually on the first Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of April, the SBAs measured learners’ mastery of Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics via a paper/pencil test much like those taken by students for more than 50 years. This year, that tidy routine is changing as students statewide take the first of a new generation of computerized assessments meant to measure an updated set of standards that is significantly more rigorous than previous learning expectations.
The new Alaska Measures of Progress, or “AMP,” will be taken by students in grades 3-10 during the month of April. Instead of taking three assessments, students will take two tests: a language arts assessment that measures both reading and writing, and a second test measuring students’ mastery of mathematics standards. Statewide assessments are mandated by state law and federal requirements, and test scores are used for both school and district accountability, as well as for the new teacher evaluation system.
Two significant differences have the attention of educators as we prepare for the first administration of the AMP: Instead of all students in grades 3-10 testing on the same three days, the new assessment will be spread out over the course of a few weeks. While each individual student will have testing sessions on only two days, the various grade levels will test at different times throughout the testing window. The second change, and the one that has folks statewide talking, is that the AMP breaks with tradition when it comes to the testing format. Instead of ensuring that thousands of No.2 pencils are sharp and ready to bubble in answers, districts across the state are working hard to provide computers and network infrastructure that will allow stress-free computer-based testing experiences for both students and educators…and this requires a new kind of practice.
Students in the CRSD have had initial practice opportunities with the new computer-based assessment (CBA) platform, and those chances to practice with both the technology tools and the types of content questions will continue periodically until testing occurs in April. One important lesson learned from states already using CBAs is that students who have the opportunity to practice with the technology are more successful on the assessments themselves; thus, we want to ensure that CRSD students know how the testing platform works and are comfortable using it so they can competently “show what they know” when it comes to the test questions on language arts and math content.
Alaska elected to move to a “next generation” assessment because of the multiple benefits of computer-based testing. Students interact with CBAs, and for many students this means they are more engaged. Computer-based assessment questions are enhanced with technology features that are not possible on a paper test, such as manipulating the graphics or listening to a story. Future CBAs will allow for computer-adaptive testing, meaning the tests will adjust the difficulty of questions to a student’s responses and provide greater score precision. Additionally, future assessments will result in test results available within minutes instead of weeks or months. (It is important to note that during this first year of the AMP, test results will not be available until the Fall of 2015.) Finally, the use of CBAs means districts will no longer have to track, ship, and manage hundreds of paper tests and answer booklets.
As we are all very aware, a new day has dawned when it comes to technology in our society and in our schools…and large-scale assessments are the latest in a long list of education modernizations that involves pushing paper and pencil aside to make way for 21st Century digital tools.
Parents are encouraged to learn more about the AMP and to experience a computer-based assessment for themselves. Additional information is available on the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development website (http://education.alaska.gov/akassessments/), and directions for accessing the technology practice tests are available on the CRSD website (www.crsd.us).