Montana students will see a new standardized test this spring.
It's called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Just this week, the Department of Education signed off on a waiver allowing Montana's Office of Public Instruction to ditch the old CRT or Criteria and Reference Tests they were set to administer, in favor of the new Smarter Balanced tests. That's so students aren't tested twice.
Those standards outline what students are expected to learn.
In 2011, the Montana Board of Education adopted a new set of standards, the Montana Common Core Standards. Those replaced previous English, Language Arts and Math standards.
Folks with the Office of Public Instruction say the new standards are higher and clearer than the old ones and focus more on critical thinking and real world application.
Those standards are officially going into effect this year and with them come a new way of testing, the Smarter Balanced.
Superintendent Rob Watson found out Tuesday Montana's request to switch over to the Smarter Balanced Test was approved.
"That's a huge change for this type of test but I think it's for the better," says Watson.
Watson says there are more critical thinking skills imbedded in Montana's new common core standards.
"Our expectations for students have changed as far as what they should know and be able to do and so, I think this test will match better to what we're doing in the classrooms," explains Watson.
We compared the two tests side by side, the pen and pencil CRT tests with the new Smarter Balanced ones.
One of the biggest differences is how the two tests are administered.
The Smarter Balanced Test is computer adaptive. That means the questions change based on right or wrong answers.
For example, if a student answers correctly, he or she will get a more difficult question. If a student gets a question wrong, he or she will get an easier one.
The Smarter Balanced Test also allows for more problem solving and open-ended answers.
According to the computer adaptive website, the tests are also shorter since fewer questions are required to get a good idea of how much a student knows.
"It does a better job of gauging where students are in in their ability levels, do a better job of helping us make determinations," Watson says.
Plus, Watson says they'll be able to administer interim tests earlier in the year to help make instructional decisions on how students are doing.
"That's a really huge bonus for us because, right now, when they take the test in the spring, by the time we get the results back, they've already moved onto the next grade level and it's too late for us to make any instructional decisions or changes for that particular student," Watson explains.
There's one more change with the new Smarter Balanced Tests. Instead of testing students in third through eighth grade and tenth grade, the Smarter Balanced Tests will test students in third through eighth and again in, eleventh grade.
Watson adds experience taking computer adaptive tests will be helpful for students as they move forward in their education. That's because more and more standardized tests to get into college and graduate school are computer adaptive.