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Despite Testing Mix-Up, State Says Smarter Balanced Rollout Going Well

Many schools across New Hampshire this week are administering the new Smarter Balanced exam for the first time.

This is the first week of a 12-week testing window for schools to give the assessment.

The rollout hasn’t gone completely as planned, after some students were accidentally given a practice version of the exam.

Officials at three Manchester schools said some students will have to retake the test.

Heather Gage is director of educational improvement for the state Department of Education.

She spoke with NHPR Morning Edition producer Michael Brindley about the state’s response to the mix-up and the rollout going forward.

What do we know about what happened with some students taking the wrong test this week?

So we have a variety of opportunities using the Smarter Balanced assessment, one being the summative assessment which the window opened on Monday. That’s the end of the year assessment that’s required of all students in our state. We also have available as an option for some school districts what we call an interim assessment, and those are smaller assessments throughout the school year that school districts have available to them to experience the assessment but also see how students are doing along the way.

There is a menu on the Smarter Balanced website and when teachers or test administrators go on to register their students, on that registration, we did have some folks who chose the interim assessment. Now what we don’t know is how many people did that on purpose because they wanted to do the interim assessment and how many folks did that by accident.

So what we did do was actually worked with our vendor to make it much more clear what was interim and what was summative so we could remove that possibility. We also sent out a few emails to our test administrators and folks involved in proctoring the assessment so they could understand the difference between those two. So the more communication we’re getting out there, the better people are feeling about using the assessment, keeping in mind this is our first administration of the assessment.

Do we know the number as far as how many students took the wrong test?

We don’t know. We couldn’t split it up, even in Manchester because there are folks in Manchester who didn’t start who didn’t start on Monday that could have wanted to take the interim. We do know there was approximately 300 students that were registered in taking the interim. However, again some of them may have meant to take the interim and some of them may have done so by error.

This is a test the state has been working on for a long time now. Aside from this issue, how are you feeling about the rollout?

Going into the third day, we have several hundred who have already experienced it. Besides this one issue, there seems to be mostly positive feedback. You know, I think there’s a lot of anxiety. We have it, too. It’s a brand new assessment. It’s an online assessment. We just want to make sure everything is really kept in perspective and that we’re moving forward in a positive direction. I can’t even begin to thank the teachers and administrators of school districts and how well that they’re doing in all of this.

Anytime you roll out a new test, there’s always scrutiny. But it seems like there’s been extra scrutiny here, especially with the alignment with the Common Core State Standards. How important is it for you to make sure you guys get it right?

I think it’s important no matter what assessment we’re talking about because it’s one measure we have in the state to take a checkup of how we’re doing in our educational system. It’s another measure that school districts can use in understanding their local system. And it’s one more measure for parents to understand how their students are doing.

What will the Department of Education look for once the Smarter Balanced has been administered to see what worked, and what didn’t?

First of all, we’re going to continue to gather input, including the input we’ve received over the last few days. We take all of that input extremely seriously. We’re going to be throughout the period of this window collecting all of that information, documenting what we’ve done to be able to or what we’ve accomplished to be able to help school districts, parents, and students understand what’s happening and how things have been fixed. Afterwards, we’re also going to want to do focus groups around the state to see how it went and how we can do better next year.

Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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