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County schools prepare for rollout of new state tests

  • (From left) Teachers Karin Beddow, Pat Godoski, Ivy Donnelly, and Amy Jones listen as Mark Tong, the technology consultant for Two Rock Union School District, goes over how to administer computerized assessment tests at Two Rock Elementary School in Two Rock, on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Ready, set ... test.

School children across California will fire up computers rather than sharpen pencils for the new standardized test being administered for the first time this year. The testing window opens Tuesday, although nearly all Sonoma County schools are expected to commence exams after April 7.

“Ready or not, here it comes,” said Mike Cole, director of technology for Petaluma City Schools, Sonoma County's second largest school district.

For the first year only, results will not be given to districts, students or parents about students' performance. This year is being billed simply as a test of the test — a full dress rehearsal before 2015 when individual and school-wide scores will be published.

That has taken some of the pressure off students and educators, but apprehension remains as an entirely new test and delivery system are rolled out.

“We have to blow this out and see where we need to make corrections,” said Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

The computerized test, called “Smarter Balanced,” marks a dramatically different format for students, teachers and administrators. The fill-in-the-bubble format of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program of old are history.

And the format has put pressure on districts' technology, some of which has been ignored as budget cuts limited spending in recent years.

“There are infrastructure needs that haven't been addressed for years that are coming to light,” said Rick Edson, Santa Rosa City Schools' information technology director who has been in the post less than two months.

Wireless access is an issue, as is the number of computers to serve Sonoma County's largest school district, he said.

“We are doing everything we possibly can right now,” he said. “The trickiest part is probably utilizing what we do have and creating and scheduling test time.”

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