Iowa schools get another year to get ready for electronic assessment tests

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9)- A new computer-based standardized test in Iowa classrooms won’t become a requirement until the spring of 2018. But eastern Iowa school administrators say districts need to take advantage of a year’s delay to get ready for the big change.

A sample question on the new computer-based Smarter Balance assessment testing. Iowa school districts have one more year to get ready before this testing mandate takes effect.

The new Smarter Balanced assessment will go into effect in the 2017-2018 school year after action by Governor Terry Branstad last week. It makes the switch to the electronic assessments a requirement but grants districts a delay of one year to get ready. Iowa lawmakers did not provide any money for the switch in this legislative session, so the delay also avoids an unfunded mandate for at least one year.

John Speer, superintendent of the College Community District, said schools that have upgraded electronics and technology in recent years should probably be OK. But districts that are lagging behind in technology funding may have to play catch up to get ready.

Speer figures the switch to Smarter Balanced from the current paper and pencil Iowa Assessment test will cost his district an extra $50,000 a year. The Smarter Balanced test costs about four times as much as the paper-based testing. But because College Community has invested in technology in recent years, that part of getting ready isn’t a concern.

“Technically, we could have given Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2017. But if a district has not committed funds for a technology infrastructure it would have been very different,” Speer said.

Speer said while internet-based Smarter Balanced testing costs a lot more than the existing assessment tests, it can replace some additional testing that schools do now. That will reduce the overall added costs.

Shannon Bisgard, Linn-Mar Associate Superintendent, estimates the start of Smarter Balanced will see the district’s yearly assessment testing bill go from about $20,000 to $130,000. The district may try to cut that increase, like College Community, by dropping some other assessment testing.

This summer, Linn-Mar will upgrade some behind-the-scenes computer equipment to get ready for the new, increased electronic demands brought on by the electronic assessment tests.

“We definitely have the computers to give the test to all of our students in 2017-2018. But the problem is it’ll tie up all our technology for weeks on end so all those other projects involving laptops they won’t be able to do for weeks on end,” Bisgard said.

District leaders say a year’s delay will also give lawmakers one more chance to provide funding for this mandate. But while districts hope for help from lawmakers they’ll probably look to budget cuts to make room for the new requirement.