Iowa schools move ahead with new state tests

Published 7:51 pm Thursday, April 25, 2019

LAKE MILLS — This week for the first time, Lake Mills students sat down to a computer rather than a paper test to complete a changed statewide assessment implemented this spring.

The Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) replaced the Iowa Assessments for all Iowa students. Third through 11th graders are tested on mathematics and English-language arts, including reading and writing, and fifth, eighth and 10th graders are tested on science.

One major difference between the ISASP and its predecessor is the new test’s alignment with the Iowa Core, Iowa’s statewide academic standards, said Lake Mills Community School Secondary Principal James Scholbrock.

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“That’s really exciting for us, as building-level those of us who have been working with Iowa Core standards for a long time are trying to get really clear and specific about what we want kids to know and to be able to do at each grade level or at the end of each course,” he said.

These statewide tests are used to evaluate schools on their accountability for how students learn and achieve based on the federal Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) Act. Changing to ISASP changes how students are evaluated — while the previous assessments were good at sorting and selecting students based on percentile rates, Scholbrock said, the ISASP looks at state standards set through the Iowa Core and asks whether students are meeting those standards.

“We’re not really interested in comparing students to one another,” Scholbrock said. “We’re interested in comparing them to the standard of learning that we expect.”

“— And what kind of growth they’re making,” Lake Mills Community School Elementary Principal Kari Wagner said.

Because it is the first year the new assessment is in place, Wagner said the scoring from this spring’s assessments may take some time to receive. While the school can still use the data, she said this year’s results will not drive instruction directly because of the expected time lag.

Still, Scholbrock said they are excited to see the results to help the school understand how and where students are displaying growth.

But in addition to how it assesses, the test also changes how it is offered and how students can respond.

Previous state assessments relied heavily on multiple choice. The ISASP includes “technology enhanced” questions, which allow students to highlight and underline as they work. The ISASP is not timed, unlike the Iowa Assessments. Guidelines for administering the ISASP online — provided by Pearson, the global education company responsible for developing and administering the test — state that students who are unable to complete the assessment during scheduled time must be provided additional time during the same testing day to complete the assignment.

According to Pearson, the assessment can be taken either online or in paper and pencil form as in the past. The Lake Mills district opted to test online.

“We’re taking it electronically because we believe that’s the way it’s going to go,” Scholbrock said.

Several months ago, the district ran an infrastructure test, Wagner said. The school put all its students on the same website at the same time to ensure both the site and the network could handle it. The test went smoothly.

This was important, Wagner said, because previous forays into online testing for the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST) assessment had problems when it was administered five years ago.

“Interruptions when you’re trying to assess what a student knows and is able to do, interruptions are not good,” Scholbrock said.

Each student in the district grades three through 12 has a Chromebook, which has also helped the district with a move toward online test-taking. Scholbrock anticipated that districts that have to work out a sharing schedule for computer labs may have a harder time testing online.

“One to one has been very helpful, and it’s made this transition to testing with the ISASP that much easier, too,” Wagner said.

Additionally, Wagner said the elementary students practiced keyboarding leading up to the test, as the test includes writing components.

“For a third grader to draft a typed response on Chromebook is something we need to prepare for,” she said ahead of testing.

The Lake Mills Community School District began its ISASP tests beginning Tuesday.

The secondary school completes testing Friday, with makeup tests next week. The elementary school will finish testing next Friday.

Wagner said the first week of testing went well, and the technology and testing site were both working. She said students and staff have been positive about the format and student knowledge.

“Overall, we’ve been very pleased,” she said.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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