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Fresno schools begin trial run for new state test

Valley schools are beginning field tests for the new common core standards. The exams will change how students are evaluated.
April 7, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Valley schools are beginning field tests this week for the new common core standards, and the exams will dramatically change how students are evaluated.

Easterby Elementary School in Southeast Fresno was among one of the first schools to receive its portion of the district's nearly 15,000 new tablets. Students will soon use them to take the new state assessment.

"We all remember darkening the little bubble," said Fresno Unified Chief Technology Officer Kurt Madden.

He said, gone are the days of the Scantron and No. 2 pencil.

Students in Mr. Patrick Marino's fourth grade class are embarking on a grand experiment, taking sample questions from a new state assessment being conducted for the first time online.

"They're using an ASUS T-100 and it's really a hybrid, it's both a keyboard and a tablet and it can be disconnected," said Madden. "The state put out requirements that said we want this test to be taken with a keyboard, but we knew kids are going to be using tablets, the future is tablets and so the great thing about the Asus device is that it separates and can be both."

Madden said, it's one of 2,000, 3rd through 11th grade classrooms in the district, now putting the test to the test.

"This is a practice year, we're doing a practice here and the real test is over the next few weeks, but it's still a practice test," he added.

The dry run comes after the state opted to try out the new common core assessment, which provides a critical thinking and problem-solving framework for math and language arts, in place of doing the traditional Standardized Testing and Reporting or STAR tests next year.

"They're going to have to be familiar with dragging items, they're could be more than one answer for a question; they may have to explain an answer which is new," said teacher Patrick Marino. "It's really going to pull writing out, just really being able to explain your thinking which is something we weren't really doing in the past."

District officials said the practice exam is designed to test how students navigate the system and will be used to provide feedback to the test developers on what might need to be fixed.

"We have 3,000 wireless access spots across the district, but just like your house you might find one spot that doesn't have five bars, so we've been doing some adjusting," added Madden.

Right now, he said, the test takes about 45 minutes to complete the math section and another 45 minutes to finish English; far shorter than the several hours students spent on the previous assessment.

Madden said the district chose the Asus tablet over others because it operates as both a touch screen and keyboard which gives students options to use the function they feel most comfortable with. He also likes how it comes equipped with a function to deter thieves from stealing the devices.

"We contract with a company called Absolute that provides something called LoJack that provides, with the computer when we get it, a function for when it's stolen," he said. "Like E.T. they phone home so even if they (thieves) wipe out the hard drive, it will still phone home and we're able to find it."

Students and staff said they like using the new technology and believed the move will better prepare them for the future.

"It's pretty fun because normally you do it on paper and on the computer it's a little more fun," said student Alan Siemens.

"Kids through the Internet have access to the knowledge of the world so having our students have that access along with the coaching the teachers provide makes for an education experience that's second to none," added Madden.

Instead of multiple choice questions, students will be asked to fill in the blank as well as write entire paragraphs to explain their answers.

Madden said 11th graders will begin using the tablets to familiarize themselves with sample questions on Tuesday, and the rest of the students will begin taking the practice exam after spring break. He said, because it is part of a trial run, the students' scores will not count.


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