Ranking Member of the Education committee, Sharon Steckman of Mason City raised concern about using the new Smarter Balanced Assessment test in replacement of the long time used Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Iowa Test of Basic Skills may be on way out

By MIKE WISER Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Posted: Sunday, February 5, 2012 8:01 am | (0) Comments

DES MOINES – Thousands of Iowa students will pick up their No. 2 pencils to fill in tiny circles this month in a school-year ritual that may be as foreign to their children as desktop inkwells were to their parents.

The circles are synonymous with standardized testing and, in Iowa, that’s been synonymous with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

But last week, Department of Education Director Jason Glass told lawmakers that it was time to get rid of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in favor of the still-under-development Smarter Balanced Assessment.

It’s a move some educators say is overdue and one that Glass forecasted this summer when he got the OK from Gov. Terry Branstad and State Board of Education President Rosie Hussey of Mason City to make Iowa a governing member of the Smarter Balanced Consortium, which is expected to introduce a new national testing system by the 2014-15 academic year.

It also comes at a time when ITBS has made moves to better align its test questions to the Iowa Core and to provide students, parents and teachers more information about each individual test-taker.

But it may be too little, too late for ITBS.

“They go beyond just memorizing and regurgitating facts. Smarter Balanced assessments are computer-adaptive, so we get results much more quickly than is possible with paper and pencil, bubble-sheet tests,” Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp wrote in an email.

“These new assessments can be completed faster by the student, resulting in more time for instruction. The assessments also will allow for state-to-state comparisons, which have been difficult with a patchwork of state standards and tests across the country.”

Norm and criterion

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is a norm-referenced test. That means students are compared to other students who take the test, and results come out on a bell curve.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments are set up to be criterion-referenced tests. Those measure the students against a set of standards, and the results come out more like a yard stick.

The move toward criterion-referenced tests goes back decades but really got a boost with the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the move toward a nationwide Common Core.

As that push toward criteria testing came, ITBS has tried to adapt, said Catherine Welch, a professor at the University of Iowa who also works for Iowa Testing Programs, which is responsible for ITBS.

“We have aligned to the Iowa Core in reading, math and (English language arts),” Welch said. “There’s a one-to-one ratio, so each question is directly related to one of the standards.”

Because of this, students will get individual Iowa Core reports when their results come out.

ITBS also has expanded its college readiness report to include grade 6 through 11, and there’s new student growth information that charts a student’s progress over time and predicts where he or she should be on future tests.

Welch said she understands there is a significant push by the governor and the department of education away from the ITBS.

“I hope that the discussion will continue and we can be a part of that discussion,” she said.

Looking ahead

Sioux City Community School District Superintendent Paul Gausman said he was happy “to learn that the state was participating so vigorously” in developing the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“It’s very important for us to have a criterion-based test,” said Gausman, who also serves as chairman of the Urban Education Network, an organization representing the 17 largest school districts in the state.

Sioux City students take the ITBS in March.

He said the ITBS is good for what it is and the testing service has been as responsive as it can be, but the test doesn’t give teachers and administrators the measures they need.

“It provides a good snapshot, but what they are trying to do with Smarter Balanced is just much more comprehensive than what they can do with ITBS,” he said.

Jane Lindaman, associate superintendent of educational services at the Waterloo School District, agreed.

“They haven’t been able to produce a criterion-referenced test,” she said of Iowa Testing Programs. “And that is very important because under No Child Left Behind, we need something that shows if our schools and our students are making adequate yearly progress against the standards.”

Waterloo students take their test in March.

Still, it’s up to the Legislature if ITBS stays or goes.

“I think we have to be careful,” said Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a former teacher and ranking member on the House Education Committee. “We don’t know what Smarter Balanced is going to look like because no one has seen it yet.”

Jean Hessburg, spokeswoman for the Iowa State Education Association, said the union doesn’t have a position on the test.

“If Smarter Balanced turns out to be as good as it’s billed to be, it’s great,” she said. “But we don’t know what it will be.”

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