When it comes to addition, subtraction and multiplication, it’s obvious why those basic skills are needed. But students taking standardized tests on bubble sheets to solve algebraic or calculus equations may have had a legitimate gripe, since finding the solution to 2(X)-3=Y+2 rarely comes up in the modern workplace.
The new standardized tests that landed in Rapid City schools last week seek to solve that long-standing problem. Rather than ask children to read a question, choose from among a few possible answers and fill in an oval on an answer sheet, the new Smarter Balanced Assessment questions ask students to do more thinking, evaluating, and explaining of why they chose their answer.
And questions are based on more real-world situations, like trying to get the best deal on pizza, or making sure people are being treated fairly when it comes to payment, or determining whether a statement someone makes is true or false given the information at hand.
The new exams are aligned with the controversial Common Core State Standards, which are now in place in South Dakota schools for math and English. Despite legislative attempts this spring to stall or outright block the new standards, the standards were upheld and the first round of testing is taking place.
And while this set of first exams is only a test-run of sorts for the new tests, and results won’t be officially counted, it’s clear already the new tests are far different than anything parents, and even their young children, have seen before. Not only is the entire process online, but the questions are more in depth and require higher levels of thinking and problem solving.
Math questions require students to do more than just memorize a formula or plug-and-chug numbers. Students must use reasoning skills, be able to communicate their reasoning, have the ability to
clearly explain how they arrived at the answer. Backers of the exams believe the tests require a higher level of thought and will push educators to help children think and evaluate more — both skills needed to function in the workplace or in academia.
“I work with a lot of math faculty and they complain that students will memorize the procedures to solve the math problem to pass the test or quiz,” Jacqueline King, director of higher education collaboration for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said in a phone interview Friday.
She added that when those students encounter the same problems years later in their college algebra class, they’ve forgotten how to solve the problem.
“So there is more focus on depth of conceptual understanding,” King said.
The English/Language Arts (ELA) questions are different as well. There is a bigger emphasis in these tests on writing well as a way to assess student critical reading skills. The ELA portion also includes research components and listening passages.
King said the point of the new exams is to address skills students need not only in English class, but also in science class, history class and across the curriculum.
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