CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thousands of West Virginia teachers have already started using different math and English lessons to prepare students for a new standardized test that will replace the Westest in 2014.The Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives, which aim for "fewer, focused and deeper" lessons, are designed to better prepare students for college and the workforce and align with the national Common Core standards, said Robert Hull, associate superintendent for the state Department of Education's Division of Teaching and Learning.West Virginia and 45 other states have adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment test based on the Common Core standards. Students will take the new test for the first time in the 2014-15 school year."Westest is just a West Virginia-based test. Smarter Balanced is being developed by a consortium of 26 states. This should assure parents that West Virginia is implementing an equal curriculum," Hull said. "Now, we will be able to measure how our students compare to other states much easier."The new standards are beneficial because they focus more on depth of understanding rather than "fitting everything in," Hull said."The content is much more rigorous in that students don't just need to know all of the basic skills, but instead need to be able to apply those skills. It's not just, 'Do you know it or not?'" Hull said. "We used to say our curriculum was an inch deep and a mile wide, but it's no longer about that. It's about knowing fewer, more strategic things at a much deeper level. Students actually have to take the information and do something with it -- not just regurgitate it back."Another major difference between the Westest and Smarter Balanced is that the new test is taken on a computer and allows for a more specific assessment of each student's performance, Hull said."Right now, everyone has a pencil and paper and they're asked the same question. The new test is adaptive, which means students will be taken to different levels when they answer questions. If they get the answer right, they will receive a more advanced question. It's more individualized," he said.The computerized assessments are able to produce results more quickly and also are more capable of measuring growth over time, but there's a catch, Hull said."Every classroom in every school has to have a computer capable of producing the test. That's a huge hurdle," he said. "But, West Virginia has invested in technology heavily over the past several years, and we just have to make sure we're ready. It's a hurdle, but I guarantee we'll get there."
The new standards have already been implemented in the state's kindergarten and first-grade classes, and second-grade teachers are rolling the program out now. By the fall of 2014, all grades 3-12 will have made the change.However, professional development for the state's teachers has been a step ahead to prepare them in time for the switch, Hull said. This year, the training will be done through the Regional Education Service Agencies to reach more teachers efficiently."Every single classroom has to be touched because it's changing the entire curriculum," he said. "You can't just flip a switch."Crystal Godbey, Kanawha County Schools assistant superintendent for instruction, presented the county Board of Education with the pros and cons reported concerning the new standards so far at a board meeting earlier this month.While the lessons are understandable and align with college and career expectations, teachers faced issues with student pacing and achievement gaps because of a lack of prerequisite skills, Godbey told the board at a Feb. 4 meeting.
Kelly Anderson, a math teacher at Riverside High School, said the new standards help stress what teachers strive to show students every day: how what they're learning will help them in life after high school."This will show connections that students weren't seeing before," she said. "We always try to stress it's not necessarily the topic, but the logic and critical thinking skills, and that's the good thing about Next Generation standards. It requires kids to think on a deeper level rather than touching the surface."Standards are only currently being changed for math and reading/language arts, but the literary assessments incorporate science and social studies, Hull said.The standards for the other subjects are still being developed, and West Virginia will continue to use the Westest for science and social studies in the interim.More information can be found at the West Virginia Department of Education's website (www.wvde.state.wv.us
) by clicking the Next Generation icon on the right. Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.