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WV state school board OKs standardized test reductions

The West Virginia Board of Education Thursday cemented moving science standardized testing to 11th grade, no longer requiring third- through eighth-graders to take a “benchmark” test at the end of each year and no longer making high school seniors in “transition” courses retake statewide standardized tests that year.

The state school board, all in voice votes with no nays heard, approved these changes. With Thursday’s votes, the board has now put into written policy its past nixing of all statewide standardized testing in ninth and 10th grades.

But the changes to how and when science is tested and the nixing of the senior year retesting already took effect for this past school year through a waiver the board approved in February, state Department of Education Executive Communications Director Kristin Anderson wrote in an email.

The board had previously proposed, but hadn’t yet implemented, measuring third- through eighth-grade students’ growth over an academic year by having each take a benchmark test at the beginning and then one nearer to the end of each school year and comparing the two scores.

Michele Blatt, an assistant state superintendent over support and accountability, said the second benchmark test was planned to be before the traditional “summative” end-of-school-year standardized test. The benchmark and summative tests for those grades are American Institutes for Research tests.

Thursday’s vote means that won’t take effect — instead, third- through eighth-grade students’ initial benchmark test score will be compared to their score on the summative test to determine growth. Students would’ve been required to take the summative test anyway.

The elimination of the second benchmark test wasn’t on public comment for 30 days like the other proposed policy changes, but was instead recommended by the department after commentors suggested that change during the comment period on the other proposals.

“During implementation, it was discovered that the administration of the post-test [benchmark test] and WVGSA [West Virginia General Summative Assessment] back-to-back created undo [sic] interruption to school schedules,” the department wrote in response the comments.

“This proposal to use the WVGSA as the post test was generated as a grassroots solution to resolve the concern. Conversations with the assessment experts indicate that this practice would pose no concern with the technical accuracy of the comparison measure.”

The department’s comment response goes on to say that the change will also be submitted to the U.S. Education Department “to formally revise this measure within” the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Jan Barth, the new assistant state superintendent over teaching and learning, said the third- through eighth- grade students only took one benchmark test this past school year due to late approval from the federal government, and it wasn’t compared to the summative end-of-year test.

Science had been tested in 10th grade as a separate test in high school from the Smarter Balanced standardized tests that preceded the department’s decision to pick the SAT college entrance exam as the new, required statewide high school standardized test, starting this past school year. This past school year and, with the written policy changes approved Thursday, going forward, students are set to instead be judged by a science score they receive as part of their performance on the SAT, which has traditionally just tested math and English.

Regarding the “transition” courses, students currently go into them if they don’t score high enough on the math and English portions of the SAT, though they can get exemptions to regardless take higher-level courses.

With the board eliminating the requirement for seniors in these courses to take the SAT again, it has eliminated another free shot for those seniors to score well on the SAT.

Department officials have said they’re considering a “different approach” with transition courses, that county school systems considered the retesting a burden and that there didn’t seem to be much change in scores before and after the 12th grade courses.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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