- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - It will cost the state of Montana about $2 million, or $27 per student, to administer and score the new battery of K-12 Common Core-aligned tests, according to the Office of Public Instruction.

The department recently finalized contracts for the Smarter Balanced computer-based exams, which gauge students’ mastery of the new standards and will be given for the first time next spring.

The old paper-and-pencil Criterion-Referenced Test, or CRT, for English/language arts, math and science had a price tag of $2.9 million, according to OPI.

Students will continue to take the CRT science exam, pushing the total testing cost this year to $3.2 million - about 10 percent more than in the past.

About 76,000 students in grades 3-8 and 11 will take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The test will be used for school accountability purposes as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The OPI also purchased a digital library, other tools and an ungraded interim assessment that teachers may use with students throughout the year to prepare for the exam.

“We think it’s really important to give tools to the classroom teacher that they could use on a daily basis or at any point during the year so they know they are teaching materials that are aligned to the Common Core,” said Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff for the Office of Public Instruction.

The additional tools are also intended to help students be comfortable with the test format.

“The kids will be able to demonstrate their knowledge better if the tool isn’t a barrier for them,” Quinlan told The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1sz5kKj).

The new test is very different from the one it is replacing. Many of the Smarter Balanced test questions ask students to type a short answer or highlight a portion of a passage on the screen, rather than simply fill in the appropriate bubble. The new exam is also adaptive, meaning that the difficulty of questions adjusts according to a student’s previous answers.

A federal grant will continue to cover state assessment costs in full, Quinlan said. School districts also have expenses that vary according to local technology needs.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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