Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tier Two Supports for Badger/SBAC pt 2

**This is part two of a series of three posts on SBAC/Badger test supports. Please see this post for more information about Universal Supports available to all students.

The second layer of support for students taking the SBAC/Badger assessment is called Designated Supports. These supports are available to any student that needs them, whether or not they have an IEP or 504 plan. These supports are akin to a Tier 2 level of support in relation to RtI. These supports may work well for struggling readers, English-language learners, students with attention problems, vision difficulties, and physical handicaps (such as a broken arm). Need for these supports is determined by teachers and support staff that work with the student. Ideally, these are supports that are offered during instruction and other assessments. Designated Supports must be entered in the Test Information Distribution Engine (TIDE) platform prior to administration of the assessment. DPI has posted a tool, called The ISAAP Tool on their website to help determine some of the necessary supports for students. 

Designated supports provide a second layer of support for struggling learners. These are not in lieu of the Universal Supports, rather in addition to the Universal supports available to all students. Embedded designated supports include: adjusting the color contrast of the screen, masking areas of the screen to show less of the passage or answers at one time, translation of glossary words and test directions into other languages, and the ability to turn off any universal tools that may be distracting to the student. Text-to-speech is also available as a designated support. Students with this support may have math stimuli items, and ELA test items read aloud, but cannot have ELA reading passages themselves read aloud.

Non-embedded designated supports include access to a bilingual dictionary, screen overlays that provide color contrast, magnification of the screen, a separate setting to decrease distractions, translated directions read by a bi-lingual adult, and a printed PDF of translated glossary terms. Students can also have access to noise-canceling headphones or be provided soothing white noise via headphones to drown out sounds and noises in the test-taking environment. 

In the previous post of this series, the importance of continuing to teach good study and test-taking skills with students and drawing connections between those skills and completing the Badger exam was highlighted. As with those universal supports, it is equally important to practice the use of designated supports prior to a high-stakes state assessment. It only makes sense that if masking test items on the Badger exam is expected to support test taking and increase performance, it is equally important during instructional tasks and classroom assessments. Some of these designated supports can be practiced with or without technology in the classroom.

For instance, a low tech way to practice masking is to show a student how to use a blank piece of paper or file folder to follow along with reading practice or test questions in the classroom. Students who benefit from a color overlay with text can use colored transparencies over their books and worksheets in the classroom as well. Students should also experiment with and practice using noise-canceling strategies during classroom tasks and assessments before using them on the Badger exam. 

Reading test questions aloud to struggling readers can be a way to practice text-to-speech but an even more powerful way to ensure adequate practice with this skill is to use screen readers available on iPads, Chromebooks and desktop computers. If you have ever tried to listen to text being read by a computer versus a human being, you know it can be difficult to get used to the non-human, slightly robotic voice. Students need practice self-adjusting speaking rates and selecting text to be read. 

It must be stressed that providing these types of tools on a high stakes assessment without offering them during instruction and classroom assessment is not recommended. Use of tools on high stakes state assessments that have never been used before may actually be detrimental to the student’s assessment performance instead of being helpful. In order to demonstrate a need for Designated Tools on the SBAC/Badger, the student should have demonstrated a benefit from these tools in the classroom prior to administration of a high stakes assessment.

Please see Accommodations for Special Needs for a third tier of supports available only to students with an IEP or 504 plan.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tools All Students Can Use on the SBAC Badger Exam pt 1

**This is the first in a series of 3 posts on SBAC Badger test supports.

I recently posted about some of the technology skills necessary to complete the SBAC - Badger assessment in a few months. High stakes online assessments are relatively new for everyone in Wisconsin; and the idea can be overwhelming. But, these online assessments do more than supplant paper assessments with online assessments; these new assessments have some embedded benefits. Support tools are available that can only be easily made available using technology are accessible to a wider variety of students. Much like the tiered notion of RtI, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has built in supports at three different levels: Universal, Designated Supports and Accommodations. The SBAC also uses the terms embedded and non-embedded. After researching the resources on the DPI website, these terms can be simply differentiated by thinking of embedded supports as those that are on the computer within the SBAC browser; while non-embedded supports are things that are in our real time and space - materials students can manipulate or human support.

Universal Supports are available to all students, regardless of whether or not they have an IEP, 504 Plan, accommodation plan or documented disability. Some of the examples of embedded Universal Supports are: scheduled breaks, on-screen calculator, online English dictionary and glossary, spell check, zoom, highlighter and strikethrough for multiple choice questions. Embedded universal supports also include expandable passages to allow students to show a passage or stimulus on a larger portion of the screen; a clear/empty digital notepad for each item; a global notepad for full-write ELA performance tasks that retains information from segment to segment for all of the items relating to one passage. Students are able to use keyboard shortcuts, like down arrow, to navigate the screen, mark items for review, and utilize various on-screen math and writing tools. Non-embedded Universal tools include access to a paper dictionary and thesaurus, scratch paper, and breaks.

Already at the universal support level there are many tools available to students to utilize on the assessment. Examining the list closely will reveal that some of the same good test-taking strategies teachers have taught are applicable to this online assessment as well. Using highlighters to highlight important information in a passage is a good study technique regardless of if it is on the computer or on paper; using strikethrough to eliminate incorrect distractors is a good test-taking strategy regardless of if it is a high-stakes state assessment or a quick, ungraded formative assessment in the classroom. As these study skills and test-taking strategies are taught in the classroom, remind and guide the students of the availability of these supports on the Badger assessment. Guiding your students to higher achievement on the Badger exam can be woven through the practical reading and studying techniques you already use. If they know how to take notes on reading passages, then utilizing the global notebook tool effectively this spring will have a much smaller learning curve.

This is a summary of Universal Tools on the SBAC Badger assessment in the hopes that after reading this, the documentation from SBAC and DPI will be less confusing than it was for me the first few times I read through it. For more details about universal assessment supports, please see:

Look for further posts about Designated Supports and Accommodations available to a more limited population of students. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Technology Skills for Online Standardized Tests

In recent years, there have been quite a few changes in education. That is an understatement. Perhaps one of the more significant changes has been in the way our students are assessed. State assessments have moved from the fall to the spring; students are assessed based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); results will be available much more quickly; assessments are completed on the computer rather than on paper.

This last change should be the least significant change for students. Students use technology often in their personal lives and, for the most part, are comfortable with computers and even enjoy using them. However, what would be somewhat detrimental to demonstration of our student achievement is if students' technology skills (or lack thereof) got in the way of the student demonstrating what they know. And for that reason, teachers are worried about now assessing new standards, the increased rigor and change in the types and formats of questions on the assessment and the technology skills needed to complete the assessment.

Below, I have attached a checklist created by Middletown Public Schools Technology Department. They used other published technology skills checklists as well as observations during the Smarter Balanced field test last spring. Theirs is a very comprehensive list, and a bit overwhelming at first. But, students may already possess many of these skills. Observations of students on keyboarding devices may begin to narrow down skills they've mastered and ones they still need to work on.

These skills apply not only to the SBAC (now called the Badger exam) but also to other online assessments such as the ACT Aspire for 9th and 10th graders. At this time, the ACT Plus Writing and ACT WorkKeys, now required for all 11th grade students, are still on paper for 2015, but it would not be surprising to see them transferred online in the future.

As teachers utilize mobile devices, such as Chromebooks, in their classrooms and take advantage of time in the computer lab, keep these skills in mind. Pick a few skills to concentrate on each week and talk about with students. And know, that while you are doing that, you are working on assessment skills, life skills, and job skills all at one time.