State considers replacing mandatory student exam

Goodbye, CSAP. Hello, what? That’s the question in Colorado, as the Department of Education starts work next month on replacing the current mandatory state exam.

It’s crucial work, since the test may soon be expected to tell us not only whether or not Johnnie can read—but whether Johnnie’s teacher is any good, whether his principal is any good, and even whether the teaching program Johnnie’s teacher attended is any good.

In Colorado and nationwide, there is a push to place test data at the center of any approach to improving education. Reform advocates argue that if the test is good, it should be able to tell us whether students are learning, and by extension, how well their teachers are teaching (and by extension, how well their teachers’ colleges are teaching). But student testing is a complex and controversial science. The devil is in the details.

What’s a good test? One that includes more essays or a taped public speaking component? Even the basics stir debate. Education News Colorado reporter Todd Engdahl writes that the state is weighing whether new tests should be written or computerized.

The biggest benefit of a computerized system would be faster processing:  teachers could get rapid data about their students’ achievement, in time to do something about it. At present, tests are given in the spring, and the results aren’t available until autumn—after the students have already moved on to other teachers.

The problem? Cost, for one—up to $80 million, says the Department of Education, (though it notes that Race to the Top money might fund computerization). But an equally big problem is that no one is sure if a computerized system could extend to Colorado’s rural counties. From Education News Colorado:

The tough question, [Ken Turner, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education Turner] said, is “How viable is that idea?” There’s wide variation in the computer equipment available to districts, and broadband Internet access is spotty in parts of the state.

That’s why CDE will be doing the statewide capacity analysis. Turner also said it may be possible to phase in online testing, with some districts administering the tests online and others initially giving tests in some other electronic format, such as on local servers or laptops.

They’ve got 15 months. The new test has to be drafted by December, 2010.

For more on the new CSAP, read the full story here.

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