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Oregon Educators Weigh In on First Year of "Smarter Balanced" Tests

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According to a new survey, 95 percent of Oregon educators say standardized testing takes up far too much school time. Credit: Taliesin/Morguefile.
According to a new survey, 95 percent of Oregon educators say standardized testing takes up far too much school time. Credit: Taliesin/Morguefile.
 By Chris ThomasContact
November 17, 2015

SALEM, Ore. – Some Oregon educators say the Smarter Balanced Assessment they're using to test students is neither "smarter" nor "balanced" enough.

A new report issued by the Oregon Education Association (OEA) compiled survey responses from more than 1,200 Oregon educators, and found that 95 percent thought the tests were "disruptive," eating up too much classroom, library and computer time.

Colleen Mileham, assistant executive director of the OEA's Center for Great Public Schools, shared one of more than 160 pages of comments.

"Testing consumed our third to fifth-grade instruction from spring break through the middle of May," she read. "It disrupted our math schedule and, as soon as it was over, our students had to start taking district assessments."

The OEA said some of the concerns stem from the tests being new, and much different than the previous Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test.

Seventy-three percent of the survey comments described the Smarter Balanced test instructions as "unclear or poorly worded." Others said the results weren't released early enough to make them useful.

According to Central Point middle school teacher Judy Harris, computers are too old to work with the Smarter Balanced software in some districts, causing a litany of technical problems.

"It was rolled out in such a rush that many of the school districts across the state were not able, and certainly didn't have the money or the funding, to update their technology to support this," said Harris.

The Smarter Balanced tests involve more writing and reasoning skills than their predecessors. OEA President Hanna Vaandering said teachers understand the need for assessments, and pointed out that comments weren't all negative.

"It's not just a 'bubble test,' in that there's more critical thinking, and being able to see what students really know," said Vaandering. "But the time that it took to complete the tests, for many of the students, was one of those indicators of the loss of instructional time that people felt really strongly about."

The OEA said its report is part of longer-term efforts working with the state on an assessment system that works better for kids.

The report was released in conjunction with an Interim Senate Education Committee hearing today at the State Capitol about student testing.

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