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Standardized tests moving to computers

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The days when standardized testing meant bubbling in the answers with a No. 2 pencil are coming to an end in New Mexico.

This year, school districts will have the option of giving the state Standards-Based Assessment in a computer-based format. And the following year, the state will fully transition to a new, computer-based test of the Common Core standards.

That test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, has been adopted by about 20 states. State Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera sits on the PARCC governing board.

Financially, the shift to computer-based testing has several implications. On the front end, it means school districts must invest in updated computers and bandwidth. But in the longer term, computer-based testing has the potential to be cheaper than pencil and paper tests. It will also mean test results can be returned sooner.

The national PARCC consortium estimates the test will cost $29.50 per student. Skandera said New Mexico’s cost per student for the SBA is now about $42. She cautioned, though, that those numbers aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison because the PARCC cost doesn’t include the cost of Spanish translation or a science test. The SBA is available in Spanish, and students in some grades take a science test in addition to the reading and math tests.

The state is surveying districts to see how close they are to having the necessary bandwidth and computers. PARCC recommends a student-to-computer ratio of five-to-one or better.

The state Legislature this year appropriated $5.4 million for PED to help districts get ready for computer-based testing. Skandera said the agency has not spent the money yet because it is waiting for the results of the survey to see where the funding is most needed. She said the results will also help the PED decide how much more funding to request from the Legislature next year.

Albuquerque Public Schools has most of the technology it needs for online testing, Chief Technology Officer Paul Romero said. He said APS is ramping up its technology for various reasons, including the Web-based Discovery Education curriculum APS bought in place of science and social studies textbooks.

APS will administer the computer-based SBA at every school that is ready. District spokesman Rigo Chavez said it might even vary within schools, with students in some grades taking the test on computers, and other grades taking it on paper.

Romero said the district won’t know for sure how ready it is until it tries computer-based tests.

“I can’t say 100 percent, but we’ll find out shortly,” Romero said. “I’m more confident than not that we’ll be fine.”

Skandera said she hopes as many districts as possible give the computer-based SBA this year.

“If there’s things to be learned at the state or the district level, we want to learn those things now,” she said.

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