The San Francisco Examiner has published a highly cogent article, written by the superintendent of schools, on the use of computerized adaptive testing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  This involves moving away from the old standby of paper and pencil, which dates back 100 years, and utilizing technology in assessment.  Why not?  Students use technology everywhere else.  As Dr. Carranza says, “It’s time for a change.”  I recommend that you read it if you are involved or interested in K12 assessment; it is a quick read.


Adaptive testing in medicine is one of the newer applications of this modern psychometric paradigm.  A recent article in the The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Volume 95, Issue 20 evaluates the use of computerized adaptive testing (CAT) approaches in assessment of psychological factors surrounding perceived disability and pain.  Researchers from the Partners health system report favorable findings, namely that the CAT assessments provided in the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) correlate highly with older paper-based assessments that will typically take much longer to administer.

Such findings are typical in this sort of research.  For example, the MHCAT project, in which Assessment Systems was involved, published this article which notes that test length was reduced by 95% – yes, 95%! – while maintaining a correlation of the short CAT assessment with the original long assessment of 0.93.  Why would a practitioner keep using an outdated assessment that takes 20 times as long to complete?

The Bone & Joint article was also discussed in the Helio website on medical news.

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 Are states prepared?

Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) has been in the news for quite some time as a technology being adopted at the state, and district level to improve the academic assessment performance for K-12 students. Legislation such as NCLB, and a push for a common-core standard have put pressure on many states to find solutions to improve performance and accountability in the classroom. For many state agencies the solution is CAT testing. But are states prepared for this innovation?

In mid-November Governor Malloy of Connecticut appropriated $14 million dollars for the use of CAT testing in Connecticut K-12 schools. This funding will be used to administer CAT end of year tests in grades 3 through 8 and 11. The CAT tests will be aligned to Smarter Balanced Assessments standards used by several other state education agencies across the United States.

Although Connecticut’s commitment to CAT testing will help improve the education performance of Connecticut’s students, many are still concerned about the state’s shortfall in the amount of money being appropriated with computer and bandwidth upgrades. These upgrades are paramount for a successful adoption of CAT testing.  According to WTNH Hartford, the state was only able to distribute $10 million out of the $24 million appropriated for technology upgrades in schools. This poses a central issue, will CAT be implemented successfully?

CAT testing is the innovative technology our country needs to successfully improve our K-12 education. Connecticut’s plan for CAT testing is a great example of what many states will have to deal with very shortly if funding is appropriated for CAT testing.  For many states, significant state-wide upgrades on technology are inevitable for CAT testing to be successfully implemented.

It has already been apparent in many states currently using CAT testing that they are seeing improved performance. What is still not apparent is how CAT testing will be implemented successfully in states where significant technology upgrades are still needed.

Link to WTNH article:

The Huffington Post recently published an article discussing the role that computerized adaptive testing (CAT) plays in K-12 educational assessment.  It presents some of the issues in the field of standardized testing, and then discusses how adaptive testing in education can address some of those issues.

This article is a refreshing departure from those typically seen in the mainstream media, which often complain about student assessment without taking the time to become informed on the topic, most notably understanding all the benefits that it provides and advantages over alternatives.  In fact, the article specifically notes that much of the debate going on just completely misses the point.  I recently read an article in a parenting magazine that was on the other end of the spectrum, bordering on fear-mongering sensationalism.

Some of the advantages of adaptive testing in education discussed:

  • CAT helps refocus learning on instruction
  • CAT can reduce the “corruptive pressures” and teaching to the test
  • CAT can enhance security: there are no bubble sheets, which completely eliminates the possibility of teacher modification, and can provide accommodations automatically, greatly reducing the chance of teachers cheating during the accommodation process (e.g., reading the test questions to a student)
  • CAT provides more accurate scores for high-ability and low ability students, and for disabled students
  • CAT tests can cost less and typically take much less time to administer (research suggests 50% less time testing)

Of course, CAT is not a panacea to all the problems facing student assessment, much less our educational system.  However, it has been shown to have numerous benefits, supported by a large body of scientific literature.  The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium has the right idea in utilizing CAT technology to meet the assessment needs of its member states.  I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how those endeavors turn out.

Here is the full article URL:

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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is an important piece of US legislation that governs assessment in the K-12 education system.  It is currently up for re-authorization, and language is being considered that will specifically mention computerized adaptive testing (CAT).

“Adaptive testing is proven to be a more effective tool for assessing student performance and competence than standard paper-based testing that only shows whether a student is on grade level.”

-Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin

Adaptive testing and NCLB work well together, as the advantages of adaptive testing translate well into the classroom as well as to accountability systems.

CAT continues to grow more widespread, especially in relation to the SMARTER Balanced Consortium.  However, most online CAT delivery platforms remain too expensive for many school districts.  FastTest offers an affordable alternative that will deliver CAT assessments which help prepare students for this more sophisticated and precise form of educational assessment.

Read the full article from EdWeek here:

The quote below is from a newsletter released by the SMARTER Balanced Consortium.  Obviously, purchasing student assessments directly from the Consortium will remain expensive, though less expensive than what many states currently pay private vendors.

FastTest , on the other hand, remains exceptionally affordable.  You can utilize our adaptive testing platform to create formative assessments – with the same CAT algorithms, hence a perfect preparation for SMARTER summative assessments – at a fraction of the cost, especially if your district or state has their own item bank.  Contact us to learn how we can help.

Fiction: The costs of these tests are unknown.

Fact: Smarter Balanced has released cost estimates for its assessments that include expenses for ongoing research and development of the assessment system as well as test administration and scoring. The end-of-year summative assessment alone is estimated to cost $22.50 per student. The full suite of summative, interim, and formative assessments is estimated to cost $27.30 per student. These costs are less than the amount that two-thirds of the Consortium’s member states currently pay. These costs are estimates because a sizable portion of the cost is for test administration and scoring services that will not be provided by Smarter Balanced; states will either provide these services directly or procure them from vendors in the private sector.[/dropshadowbox]

The efforts of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium are leading to more mentions of computerized adaptive testing in the news.  I recently came across the following article that covers a paper by Mark Reckase, one of the most respected researchers in the field.

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