Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Fifth-grade teacher Jenny Lake reads "The Dead Man in Indian Creek" to her students at Orchard Elementary School in North Salt Lake on Friday.

Utah isn't blazing the trail with its proposal to jump-start its testing system with a jolt of technology.

Other states have been doing computer-based testing for years with mixed results.

While Oregon touts a story of success, Idaho has experienced some expensive mistakes.

"It was a difficult lesson learned, but we are very pleased with the tests we have now," said Mark Browning, spokesman for the Idaho State Board of Education.

As Utah acclimates to the 21st century, merging testing with technology, education officials in Oregon and Idaho advise the Beehive State to pay attention to the paths they have already cleared.

Utah is considering eliminating several of its tests in favor of Measures of Academic Progress, new testing from the Northwest Evaluation Association. The state is also considering using the ACT, Accuplacer, PLAN and EXPLORE exams to gauge student progress.

Utah's test revamping is expected to cost an estimated $45 million for support technology and up to $23 million in testing materials. The state would save an estimated $6 million by cutting three tests now in use.

Utah's northern neighbor launched the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) under the vendor NWEA in 2002 when testing requirements came down with the federal mandated No Child Left Behind.

The early ISAT was a computer-adaptive test. The exam changed to fit a student's ability. For example, if a student answered a question correctly, the next question would be different than if the previous question had been answered wrong.

The ISAT could go up or down several grade levels.

In late 2005, the U.S. Department of Education audited Idaho's testing and deemed the ISAT was not aligned with state content standards — what Idaho students are supposed to know.

Idaho put out bids in 2006 and went with a new test vendor, Data Recognition Corp. The state's second version of its ISAT, another computer-adaptive test that can go up or down several grade levels, was launched in 2007. The test results were used to meet NCLB's adequate yearly progress requirements that year.

The new test costs the state $4.8 million annually, whereas the old test was slightly less, according to Browning.

Switching vendors cost Idaho approximately $1 million, he said.

The first test was extremely popular with teachers and legislators alike, Browning said.

"Some are very fond of the old test. That's all great, but we can't use it," he said. "It puts us in noncompliance with the feds, and that's not an option."

The new test is tougher. Many Idaho schools didn't do as well, and the 2007 AYP results show it. On the upside, educators now know where the students need to improve and can adjust their teaching strategies accordingly.

"We feel we have a much more realistic snapshot of where the kids are," Browning said, adding Idaho students improved on the exams in 2008.

Idaho drew up its tests "from scratch" with vast input from teachers all over the state, he said. There are 272,000 students in Idaho.

Federal education officials said last week that NCLB does permit computer-adaptive tests, provided they meet the same requirements as any other assessment system. States need to have a test that measures the same content and the same achievement standards for all students.

Utah education officials are working with USDE to ensure new tests are compatible with NCLB before accepting or approving them for the state.

Judy Park, USOE associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability, said a test the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Assessment is considering is the one Idaho used early on, from NWEA.

However, Park said the testing revamp isn't a done deal. When finalized, Utah would put out requests for proposals and NWEA would likely be one of many applicants. "This test is just one of many options," she said.

NWEA director of marketing Tim Williams said NWEA tests are continually evolving and improving. In addition, NWEA's tests are aligned to each state's standards so tests differ from state to state. "If NWEA has the opportunity to work with Utah, they would work with the state to create assessments that would help them be successful," he said.

Oregon had a much smoother transition than Idaho in implementing its new testing system.

The state received about $50 million in funding from Qwest in 1999 to pay for Internet capacity and video telecommunications equipment. But districts had to "pony up" their own funding for computers, said Doug Kosty, assistant superintendent for the Oregon Department of Education.

Oregon piloted its new Web-based computer testing in 2001 in 20 schools with 10,000 students. Web-based testing is simply taking a test via the Internet.

The goal was to give educators quick results on students' tests and have a more efficient method than paper and pencil. NCLB requirements were a huge motivator, Kosty said.

The state transitioned to computer-adaptive testing a few years ago. However, as compared to Idaho's testing, which allows the student to dip or ascend several grade levels on the exam, Oregon's tests keep students at their grade level.

Like Idaho, Oregon compiled input from educators statewide to make their own tests with the help of a contractor. The questions align with the content standards and therefore meet the criteria of NCLB, Kosty said.

Since Oregon was the first state to attempt to get its unique testing system approved by USDE, its exam process was held under a magnifying glass by federal education officials. Oregon had to present a lot of data to validate its testing process.

"We were first out of the chute, so we had to come up with the methodology," Kosty said. "But they (USDE) didn't put up roadblocks. They know this is the wave of the future."

Last year, Oregon spent $3 million on testing for 550,000 students.


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