Computer-adaptive tests in Va. may be quicker

One thing that Virginia students can look forward to when new on-line Standards of Learning tests are implemented in the coming years is shorter testing times.

The traditional seventh-grade math test took about 40 minutes longer to complete for the majority of test takers statewide last spring than a new version that was tried out by a small number of students this year, education officials reported.

The main reason for time savings is that students are less likely to get stuck on questions that are too hard with the new test, they say.

In traditional tests, all students are given the same set of questions. But the new “computer adaptive” tests are customized, and the difficulty level adjusts based on how individual test takers are performing.

Such adaptive tests are gaining traction around the country. Advocates say they are particularly useful for students who are very low or high performers, because the standard grade-level tests don’t accurately reflect their knowledge and abilities.

Virginia education officials had planned to roll out the new tests statewide over the next three years. But now they say that time line will need to be extended because of a reduction in funding associated with the General Assembly’s decision to eliminate five of the state’s 22 standardized tests.

A majority of students who took the seventh-grade adaptive math test in a pilot this year finished in 50 to 65 minutes, while the majority of students statewide who took the regular seventh grade math test in spring 2013 completed it in 90 to 105 minutes.

Students who participated in the pilot were eighth-graders who had taken the seventh- grade math test last spring. They were aware they would not receive a test score and knew it would not count, official said.

Still, adaptive tests are often touted as more efficient ways to identify what students know, often with fewer test questions.

Testing times have become a bigger concern in Virginia, since a more rigorous math test was introduced in the 2011-2012 school year.

The test does not have a time limit, and many students took several hours to finish it. In a survey 0f 16 school divisions by the Virginia Education Department, 75 percent of students completed the end-of-course math tests within two hours and 90 percent completed within three hours.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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