Kansas board reviews plans for developing new tests

11/14/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas State Board of Education members on Wednesday began weighing the options and costs involved with changing how students are tested each year on core academic subjects.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas State Board of Education members on Wednesday began weighing the options and costs involved with changing how students are tested each year on core academic subjects.

At issue is whether Kansas uses annual exams developed by a national consortium to measure student proficiency or continues to develop those tests in-state as new education standards for math and language arts are implemented.

Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner for education, recommended to the board that Kansas use a blended testing system, including tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Kansas is among 21 states involved in developing the tests, which will be given first in the spring of 2015.

The University of Kansas has developed tests in the past, and some board members wondered if Kansas could continue with that practice and at what cost. Neuenswander said the plan called for the university to continue administering the tests developed by the consortium.

Board member Ken Willard said there would be some advantages to having access to test questions being developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium that could then be used by the university to continue developing tests. He said the test questions should be available to Kansas and other states since they were developed collectively, even though the funding source was the federal government.

Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker agreed, but added that states haven't been told directly they could use the material for their own testing, a question that will be asked in the coming weeks.

Neuenswander said Kansas will need to spend an additional $1.86 million to administer the new test. The state currently spends $4.6 million annually on testing. Willard asked what the cost would be if the university developed the tests, noting that critics of the new Common Core Standards that the tests are based on will be watching closely.

The standards have been attacked by conservatives as endangering local and state control of education. Efforts to defund the implementation were unsuccessful during the 2013 legislative session but expected to be renewed next year.

"I think we need to know because cost is going to be a factor that the Legislature is going to consider," Willard said.

Board Chairwoman Jana Shaver called the decision over who provides the test one of the most critical the board would make, adding that complete, accurate information would help in explaining the board's ultimate decision. A vote on the testing decision could be made in December.

Neuenswander said regardless of whether the University of Kansas or the Smarter Balanced tests were used, the exams were only one tool to determine whether students had the necessary skills to go to college or begin a career. Other factors to be determined by local school districts include a student's technical skills, employability, workforce skills and cognitive skills, such as reasoning and understanding of subjects.

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