(TNS) -- Syringa Mountain School became Idaho's first public Waldorf school when it opened in September. With an emphasis on nature, the school doesn’t expose its students to technology until third grade.
But the unusual approach to education is proving problematic as youngsters around the state prepare for the new Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) standardized tests this spring.
The exams are given online, and the state has denied Syringa’s request to take them on paper.
As most public schools race to adopt the latest technologies, low-tech Syringa has suddenly found itself thrust into a high-tech testing system. Administrator Mary Gervase hopes her students won’t be at a disadvantage to their computer-savvy peers in other public schools.
“Our goal is that our children will be comfortable,” Gervase said.
Idaho students have taken computerized tests for about 10 years, said Angela Hemingway, director of assessment and accountability for the Idaho Department of Education.
Hard copies are “incredibly expensive,” she said, and aren’t computer adaptive. With computerized tests, students are given different questions based on how they’ve answered previous ones.
Syringa doesn’t have a computer lab. But it used grant money from local civic organizations to buy a classroom set of Chromebooks last month.
Students are starting to use the laptops in class. And third- through fifth-grade teachers are encouraging students to practice keyboarding at home.
Despite technology challenges, Gervase said she knows students are ready academically. “We’re very confident that our curriculum is appropriate in preparing children for what they will be experiencing here in May.”
Idaho public schools were allowed to start administering the SBAC on Monday. Tests must be finished by May 22.
The new tests align with new Common Core Standards. Third through eighth graders and 10th graders piloted the tests last year, but it’s the first time scores will count.
Fewer students will initially perform at grade level since they’re being tested on tougher standards, state education officials say.
Results will show how well instruction is aligned with Common Core, said Janet Avery, curriculum director for the Jerome School District.
Students can take SBAC tests over several sessions. And they’ll have to use critical thinking skills.
“It’s not just going to be straight multiple choice or fill in the blank,” said Melissa Ardito, principal at Harrison Elementary School in Twin Falls.
At Syringa Mountain School, testing won’t begin until May. It will allow time for a parent volunteer to set up the new laptops.
Testing won’t be emphasized, Gervase said, adding it’s just “another day in the life of our students.”
“Standardized testing has not been part of the traditional Waldorf world,” she said. But students at Syringa are required to take them because the school is publicly funded.
Because the school is new, most Syringa students have taken standardized tests at other schools. “It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for the majority of our children,” Gervase said.
Testing around the Magic Valley
In the Twin Falls School District, the testing schedule is different for each school.
At Harrison Elementary, students will likely take tests on school-owned Chromebooks. “They’ve been on there practicing all year,” Ardito said.
In Jerome, testing begins this month — anywhere from Monday to April 13, depending on the school.
Students will take the tests over several sessions. “We’re really trying not to overload kids with testing,” Avery said.
In Wendell, “we’ve done everything we can to prepare for the new tests,” said Superintendent Greg Lowe.
Every student will take a practice test, he said. “That really helps the kids beforehand.”
Schools are also using a writing assessment for all grades similar to the SBAC.
In Cassia County, schools start testing as early as Wednesday. Teachers are trying to take pressure off students and reduce anxiety levels, district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.
Most students put in effort and want to do well, said L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director at the Twin Falls School District.
Parents can help by being positive and encouraging their children to do their best, Ardito said.
Students need to remember that test scores don’t define them, Avery said. “It gives us one piece of information that tells us where they are at that moment.”
©2015 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC