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Many Arizona students will have to go with paper on new school tests

Students620An estimated 50 percent of Arizona’s public-school students are going to use the more expensive paper versions of the Common Core achievement test.

Although K-12 officials have long known many schools won’t be ready to use a computerized version of the exam when testing begins in the spring of 2015, no one knows the true number. The state Board of Education in its June 6 procurement request to testing companies estimated 50 percent of the state’s roughly 1 million K-12 public school students will test on a computer, leaving about 500,000 students taking it the old-fashioned way.

Dale Frost, Director of the Governor’s Office of Education Innovation, said the office is figuring out the exact number of schools that will be unable to take a computer version of the test.

“There will be a number of schools that won’t be ready next year and we’re trying to finalize a plan so we can move forward with that,” Frost said.

The Board of Education is expected to select a company to administer the test by October.

Paper tests will cost the state between $5 and $10 more per student depending on the grade and test, according to estimates provided by companies to the Arizona Department of Education in February.

Jackie King, a spokeswoman for Smarter Balanced, an association of 21 states that is developing a test, said the paper test requires an assortment of additional costs, such as secure printing, secure shipping and people to run the tests through machines for grading.

The new test will replace AIMS, which students have taken for years. AIMS had been used for determining school and teacher performance and the reading ability of third graders, who must be proficient before moving to the next grade. Schools are graded on an A to F scale, and failing schools are subject to intervention by the state. The new test will also be used for those purposes.

The test will measure how well students have learned under Common Core, or rebranded in the state as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.

Arizona adopted the learning standards in English-Language Arts and Math in 2010, and has rolled them out incrementally to all grades this year. The state is one of 46 that have adopted them.

The request for bids issued by the Board of Education also stated that an estimated 33 percent of the state’s schools will be able to administer the test on computers.

The 2014 Legislature answered Brewer’s $23.5 million request for the new test with an $18 million appropriation. The Legislature was also cool to a Brewer proposal to charge public schools $15 per student to help build a broadband network to get high-speed, high capacity Internet to all school children.

The result of that proposal was a committee to study the issue.

Frost said the Governor’s Office has helped schools determine their Internet speed and is in the process of measuring costs to help them increase it. Eventually, the plan is to find ways to help schools use their own resources to prepare for the assessment next year.

“We don’t have enough schools that are connected to fiber and that are able to really enjoy the lower costs,” Frost said.

Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the lack of infrastructure is a statewide problem, but for now there is no statewide solution because districts and charters are going to have their own technical dynamics within their schools.

“What we’re trying to do is provide them support and resources to address the local issue, and of course, there will be the ability for schools to do the paper and pencil test if they are not ready,” Liewer said.

Common Core standards are designed to improve the critical thinking of students.

King said the paper version of the Smarter Balanced test will still test critical thinking and not simply be multiple choice.

David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, an association of states that also developed a test, said the PARCC paper test also has the same questions as the electronic one and will test critical thinking.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the state should put off the high impact, high stakes consequences that are tied to the test results until the bugs are worked out.

“There’s a lot of concern out there of there being really not much support and very few resources going into our public schools to get the implementation of the standards and the assessment right,” Morrill said.

For instance, Morrill said a student’s performance will suffer if he is testing in a school without enough capacity because problems such as delays and downtime will arise.

Morrill said he thinks the AIMS test was implemented too quickly and the state is seeing a replay of that.

“The concerns from the field are: Are we really setting up ourselves and our students and our schools for success on this test, and can’t we take a little bit more time to do that?” Morrill said.

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