As part of a larger pilot across Montgomery County Public Schools, fourth-graders at Fallsmead Elementary School in Rockville tried their minds at the new state assessment test for the first time last week.
The new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, set to replace the Maryland School Assessment, is being piloted across Maryland this school year.
In the majority of Montgomery schools, at least one class tried out a part of the test before it is fully implemented in the district next school year.
The new assessment for students in grades 3 through 12 aligns with the Common Core State Standards — a controversial set of education standards for English and math that Maryland, along with other states, chose to adopt.
At Fallsmead, about 25 fourth-graders tried the reading portion of the new test, which, in its full version, also tests students on math.
Principal Roni Silverstein said the students were “comfortable” with the new test in terms of both the technology they had to use and the way the test asked them to think.
“The Common Core is a very rigorous curriculum that gets kids to think critically to synthesize information, and I think the test mimics that,” she said.
Silverstein said she and several other administrators and teachers took a practice test before the students did.
Fallsmead students took the test on computers using technology Silverstein described as “pretty sophisticated.” It provided students with several tools, such as the ability to highlight reading passages.
“It seemed a little daunting to me to take a test that way, but they were very comfortable,” she said.
Sophie Friedman, a fourth-grader who took the pilot test, said she enjoyed taking the test on a computer, which allowed her to type answers and flag questions, so she could remember to go back.
“I thought half the questions were hard and half the questions were easy,” she said.
Aditya Khanna, another pilot participant, said some questions made him “think and think again” for a good answer.
He didn’t think the test was very different from the old state assessment.
Aditya said he also liked the computer-based test because he can type more quickly than he can print an answer. He could flag questions and cross off answers he knew were wrong.
Fourth-grader Beatrice Chung thought the essay portion was challenging because it had students tie together two different but related topics.
Beatrice said liked having videos on the test provide information and generally felt comfortable using the computer.
Fallsmead has one computer lab with about 30 computers, Silverstein said.
It would be “hard to picture” the schools’ third through fifth-graders all taking the test on computers, she said.
A paper-and-pencil version of the test also exists.
The reading portion of the test the Fallsmead students piloted had three parts: literacy, research and narrative writing, Silverstein said.
The students had about 70 to 80 minutes to complete each of the first two parts of the pilot and were scheduled to take the third part on Wednesday. The pilot was spread across three non-consecutive days.
By next school year, when the test is fully implemented, Silverstein said, all of Fallsmead’s students will be familiar with the school system’s Curriculum 2.0, which is based on the Common Core State Standards.
The familiarity with the kind of critical thinking that Curriculum 2.0 teaches will help students take the new test, she said.
“It doesn’t make it easy but ... there won’t be as many growing pains, I don’t think,” she said.