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Three States to Decline Use of Adaptive Feature in Common-Core Tests

Three states plan not to use the adaptive-testing feature of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium's upcoming assessments, and will instead used a "fixed-form" version of the test. Smarter Balanced said the states informed the consortium on Feb. 4 that they won't give the adaptive version of the test, which is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Adaptive tests present students with questions based on their answers to previous ones, instead of relying on a fixed progression of test questions. 

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In an interview, Smarter Balanced Executive Director Tony Alpert said that Missouri and Wisconsin would not offer the adaptive version of the test. And in a Feb. 9 newsletter, the Michigan education department said that it would not offer the adaptive version of the Smarter Balanced test (more on Michigan's situation below). 

Alpert added that the issues were not related to those states' testing service providers—Wisconsin, for example, is using Educational Testing Service (ETS) to administer Smarter Balanced.

Smarter Balanced officials stressed that results from the fixed tests still will be comparable to those from adaptive tests in terms of student performance, and that they don't think the issues experienced by the three states regarding adaptive tests are permanent. Alpert said the consortium did not expect any more states to decide not to use adaptive testing this year.

"The test questions remain the same," Alpert said of non-adaptive tests. 

A Feb. 9 report in the Wisconsin State Journal (which reported that a "technical glitch" had occurred with the adaptive-testing feature) said that the state will look to reduce the $11.2 million price it had originally agreed on for the Smarter Balanced test this spring. Alpert also said there will be upcoming discussions about how much the three states in question would now pay for Smarter Balanced after switching from adaptive to fixed tests. 

"If there were enough time, I'm confident that we would be able to help get those states over the line with their service providers. I know they want to get there. But they just had to make the pragmatic call," Alpert told me.

Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin are using testing platforms not based on work done by the American Institutes for Research. Three other states (Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota) are using an open-source version of a testing platform based on work done by AIR. The remaining 12 states giving Smarter Balanced are using AIR's proprietary version of its testing platform. Alpert said that making the testing platforms used by those three states with Smarter Balanced items proved to be complicated for, among other reasons, test items' audio and visual information. 

Back in 2011, my colleague Catherine Gewertz discussed challenges associated with adaptive testing, which by nature must occur online. Michigan State University Professor Mark Reckase told her that the software managing adaptive testing is complex, and can therefore become quite expensive. 

Michigan plans to use a mix of Smarter Balanced test items, with items developed by state teachers; however, only the Smarter Balanced items will be used to judge student performance, and the items developed by Michigan teachers will be for field-testing purposes only.

Missouri plans to use the full-scale Smarter Balanced test only in grades 5 and 8, and a scaled-down version of the test in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will only give Smarter Balanced in grades 3-8.

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