March 19, 2013 | 05:16 PMGENOA CITY — Brookwood Middle School Principal Kellie Bohn said it's a test she didn't know her seventh- and eighth-graders would be taking.
In February, the state notified Bohn that Brookwood could pilot some aspects of the forthcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), a standardized test which falls in line with an initiative that is reshaping public education in nearly every state.
On March 13, Bohn said school officials decided to participate in the pilot program to gain insight on how students will be tested within the realm of Common Core Standards, the initiative she said is at the forefront of the ongoing shift in education.
"We kind of get a preview as to what the assessment will look like," she said.
Starting spring 2015, SBA will replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE). Two big differences between SBA and WKCE — the new test is administered online, and it's aligned to the Common Core, Bohn said.
That means students take the SBA via computer, so it appears the days of filling in dots on paper with a pencil are numbered.
"We weren't really sure how technology was going to be embedded in the assessments," she said.
They also weren't sure, Bohn said, of what types of questions would be asked.
For the last two weeks, seventh-graders were tested in math, eighth-graders in language arts.
But in 2015, all middle school students will be required to take the SBA.
Bohn said, technically, this is the first time Brookwood was chosen to pilot a new assessment.
The allure to piloting aspects of the SBA, however, isn't found within that historic footnote.
"I think it's just getting to see some of the types of questions and the level of questions (on the SBA), which is very different than the WKCE," Bohn said. "I think it gives teachers insight to what they may want to do differently to prepare students for this type of test."
The new Core
At this point, it's staying ahead of a curve that no one has a complete idea of yet.
In October 2012, Bohn said some Brookwood programs already in place have given them "a solid start" in aligning their curriculum to Common Core Standards, which in part brings each state onto a level playing field.
"Before, each state had its own standards," Bohn said previously. "Now, it's national. The main thing is, everyone's using the same standards."
There's also that increasingly tight embrace of new technology.
Recently, Bohn discussed the reasoning behind allowing students to use and purchase iPad minis.
On March 13, she said technology is a crucial part of Common Core. In October, she discussed other ways Common Core shifts away from the ways of old — more multi-step problem-solving exercises; use of informational text; and individual and group exercises.
"If you don't know what jobs are going to be out there in 10 years, what skills do you want them to have? Of course, it's reading and writing, teaching them to think critically, problem-solving, application of technology they use in the real world," Bohn said previously. "Obviously, technology makes access to facts automatic, so it makes sense that there is this shift away from memorization."
The essentials of education will remain "on the plate," she said, "we're just adding more to it."
So, in a way, piloting aspects of the SBA will afford Brookwood teachers the opportunity to arrange what's on that plate.
Experiencing the process
For those still wondering how effective a test can be if students don't need to use paper and pencil, the SBA aspects Brookwood finished piloting Tuesday involves concepts such as highlighting and reading text from a "split screen," Bohn said.
The SBA pilot program takes about two hours to complete, she said. They chose to administer it to seventh- and eighth-graders over three class periods — or 45-minute sessions.
"It's a harder test," Bohn said, comparing the SBA to the WKCE. "The level of application and the content is harder. The state's Common Core Standards are a bump up, (and) this test reflects that."
With teachers having a better understanding of the SBA, they can better prepare students for it, Bohn said. And with the SBA being a different sort of animal, students who took it recently will have an idea of what to expect throughout the rest of their educational career.
"(Students) come out of their classes to do this, but I think in the long run, we want to be prepared as a school so that all of our kids can do well in the assessment," Bohn said. "This insight will better prepare them for when the state test is mandatory, and kids will be (taking) it, too, when they're in high school. Ö With all the changes in education, you just try to do whatever you can to stay one step ahead."