As curriculum alignment to Common Core State Standards sweep through your school district, a corollary to the content is whether or not the assessment methods that will be used to test student proficiency in these standards is keeping pace with new curriculum. Several states have adopted the Adaptive Testing model, and it is worth knowing about. Today’s state testing methods vary quite a bit, with some still using pencil and paper with bubble sheets, and others testing on the computer. Either way, the computerized assessments are typically similar to the paper and pencil tests, with a series of multiple choice questions with plain text and a few images. Using the computer is a step forward for several reasons. For instance, students don’t lose their place on a sheet with hundreds of bubbles to fill in, and they receive immediate feedback on how their results compared to the benchmark. But computer testing has not until now used the inherent power of the computer itself, it was merely another way to see the same questions.
Adaptive tests change the content of the test itself based upon how well the student is performing. If the students answer enough questions correctly, the difficulty of subsequent questions is increased. By the same token, students who perform poorly are given less difficult questions. Using an algorithm that chooses from a large pool of potential questions, the test ‘adapts’ itself to the level of the student, and thereby assesses the student’s abilities and deficits more accurately for each individual. This should provide teachers with more meaningful data about each student as well as the curriculum content in the common core and other areas. Adaptive tests should also be able to account for special needs students and English language learners better than current test modifications, since the test modifies itself. Some school districts are taking it upon themselves to create their own adaptive tests. On a larger scale however, two major players in common core assessment are Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC (Partnership for Assessment and Readiness of College Careers).
Both the Smarter Balanced and PARCC coalitions are working on assessing the common core by developing new online tests. Both tests are said to be more interactive, engaging and meaningful assessments. But it is the Smarter Balanced coalition that is making use of the adaptive testing model. Time will tell if the more traditional approach works or if Adaptive tests really do provide more meaningful results, particularly for students at extreme ends of the scale.
Teachers are continually required to adapt their curriculum to the needs of each student. Now with a new series of assessments on the horizon, we should get a better picture of how these efforts are paying off.