Thursday, November 10, 2016

KSDE Transitions from Fixed to Adaptive Testing

The latest results of the Kansas State Assessments are based on a higher quality test to measure student performance, and while that is good news for students and teachers, caution should be used when comparing scores to the previous year.

KSDE this week released the results of the 2015-16 Kansas State Assessments. This year the annual update of the measures indicating Kansas public school students’ performance levels marks a major shift in terms of the type of assessment being used to make judgments about student performance.

For the 2015-16 school year, the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, put into place computer adaptive testing rather than the fixed-form testing that has traditionally been used. An adaptive test, according to the National Council on Measurement in Education, is a “computer-administered test in which the next item or set of items selected to be administered depends on the correctness of the test taker’s responses to the most recent items administered.”  In other words, unlike traditional tests where every student answers the same questions (or comparable questions if multiple forms are being used), adaptive tests change based on the responses test-takers provide.

There are two key benefits to adaptive testing that make them preferable to traditional fixed tests. First, they give a more accurate assessment of a student’s performance or ability than traditional tests by adapting to each student as they take the test. Second, testing takes less time (or has a smaller footprint) because the adaptive test can assess a student’s performance level using fewer items than would be required in a fixed form.  

The one downside of going to this new form of assessment is comparability. Caution must be used when comparing test results from one year to the next when the content, format or administration of a test changes.  This is true even when going from one kind of fixed testing to another, but is even more true when going from a traditional fixed form to a more accurate and precise adaptive test. Therefore KASB urges that people comparing the 2014-15 State Assessment results to the 2015-16 results acknowledge the significant changes to the testing method and content and the potential impacts this has on the individual and aggregate scores.  

KSDE is working to promote the Kansans CAN initiative by noting that these new state assessments are just one piece of evidence for student success, and that they should be viewed in the larger context of all the success factors, including social, emotional, and civic measures, project and task performance, and  post high school indicators. KSDE also noted that schools will be discouraged from “teaching to the test,” since these tests are tied very closely to the state academic standards and should provide an accurate assessment as long as the classroom curriculums are aligned to these standards.  

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