Instead of pencils and Scantrons, students are using keyboards and mouse pads this year as part of a pilot of new computer-based testing that will reach all schools in California next school year.
The state began assessing the first batch of what will be 3.2 million California students -- and more from 21 other states --using the new method this year, said Deb Sigman, deputy superintendentof the instruction and innovation branch of the California Department of Education.
The goal of this year's testing is not to gauge student knowledge or learning -- that will come next year. And schools that fail federal accountability standards won't be punished. In fact, schools won't even receive the results.
The purpose of the field test is to assess the performance of more than 20,000 newly developed test questions and the test delivery system that align with a set of academic benchmarks adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Some local schools resolved what were minor communication hiccups and computer glitches in early rounds of the testing they administered last week. Others will begin the testing in assessment windows that start Monday and later this month.
Two Compton Junior High School students were apprehensive about testing that for them starts Monday.
"I like it the old-fashion way," said Anastasia Chavez, an eighth grader.
Another eighth-grader, Montserrat Garcia, said she appreciated some of the computer-based tools such as being able to strike through incorrect answer choices.
The Compton students cycled through their school library to practice those functions Wednesday.
Liberty, Ridgeview and Frontier high schools were already in the thick of testing by Wednesday. They began last week.
Three Ridgeview juniors gave mixed reviews of the computer-based testing. They all noticed the questions required them to show how they reached their answers instead of simply choosing a correct answer.
"So you'd actually have to think about it, other than just guessing on this," Dora Morales, 16, said of the English test she had just completed.
Joshua Rodriguez, who completed math and English language arts sections, described the field test as slightly more difficult than the normal multiple-choice tests. Chris Camero, 16, said he noticed a mix of geometry, algebra and calculus questions that more frequently varied in difficulty level.
Both Rodriguez and Camero said they did not have a prefered test.
"A test is a test," Camero said.
Students in grades third through eighth, 11th and (for some small groups) ninth and 10th will participate in the field test. But only the results from about 20 percent of California test-takers will inform decisions about which test questions will be included in the complete assessment to replace tests in the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program next school year.
The assessment, plus new learning standards, have required greater spending for some local school districts, with more planned investment in technology to come.
Technology and research planners in the Kern High School District said they haven't had to buy new laptops or other devices for the 18 schools participating in the pilot because each has functional computer labs. But administrators will use the results of the pilot to inform needed investment in the future.
Ryan Frank, network administrator in the Beardsley School District, said Beardsley focused resources, about $20,000, on hardware updates and computers that will allow test organizers to create four temporary labs in the future and meet current testing support needs.
Officials believe they can successfully administer the pilot testing -- about half the content of the completed assessment -- with the existing school labs and added computers, Frank said.
"We will be fine going into next week," Frank said.
The field test will help administrators assess potential equipment and support needs and allocate spending in moving forward.
"We wanted to be as thoughtful as we could with our existing hardware and money," Frank said.