On March 25, 2014, the Common Core Field Test made its debut in the Mountain State.
Between then and June 6, selected "scientific sample" schools will administer the adaptive, computerized assessment covering English Language Arts, or ELA, and math. For most schools, the West Virginia Department of Education website states that "testing is scheduled for short blocks over several days."
According to Juan D'Brot, West Virginia Department of Education executive director of assessment and accountability, a single grade will be tested on one content area per school. Specific grades are 3-8 and 11.
"A handful are doing both ELA and math," he said. "It's usually one or the other."
‘Scientific sample' school
When entering into assessment consortium agreements, states had two options when it came to deciding which consortium to use: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARRC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC.
Regardless of which agreement a state entered into — West Virginia is part of SBAC — each state has to go through the process of creating a standard setting sample, D'Brot said.
Schools participating in the field test were chosen by the Department of Education in order to meet criteria that would best represent the Mountain State's various demographics collectively.
Some of those demographics include economic status and focus on grade level expectation. Ultimately, it is "up to the (selected) schools" to decide whether they participate in the field test or not, D'Brot said.
The "scientific sample" schools that have been selected for participation can be viewed at wvde.state.wv.us/smarter-balanced/participant_school_list.html
Can parents opt out?
Due to the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards and what opponents consider to be an excess of student information collected through the testing consortiums, parents across the country have raised the question of "Can I opt my child out?"
During a December 20, 2013, Common Core forum, hosted by the Harrison County Board of Education, former President Michael Queen asked for clarification with regard to opting out and if any penalties exist from exercising that course of action.
West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools James Phares said parents have the ability to opt their children out of the field test if they choose. In the same way that no penalties exist for parents opting children out of the WESTEST, Phares said the same applies for the SBAC field test.
"There is no penalty for students," he said.
D'Brot echoed Phares's statement during a phone interview and said that "ultimately, parents can refuse" to give permission for their children to take the field test.
What will suffer, Phares said, is the Participation Rate every school must meet.
Opting out numbers
In New York, the opt-out numbers have begun pouring in.
According to Truth in American Education, a national, non-partisan group of parents and citizens who believe common core standards are being implemented without enough public examination and discourse, about 30,899 opt-outs in 423 school districts had occurred in the Empire State as of April 4.
At Trumbull High School in Connecticut, more than one-third of the junior class submitted opt-out letters. When the assessment began, only 47 out of 530 students showed up to take it. Other areas with high opt-out numbers include Chicago, Denver, Seattle and Nashville.
While proponents of the testing consortiums argue that the tests merely measure academic progression, the large opt-out numbers demonstrate the concern of opponents that academic progression is not the only thing that will be monitored. According to a Truth in American Education article, one of the concerns of opponents is the potential "enormous windfall of student data that will result from digital-learning technologies and digital assessments."
The article argues that because "the consortium assessments work by stimulus response — the student sees something on the screen and has to choose a response, which leads to another prompt, and so on — an enormous amount of data on each student's behaviors and dispositions" is generated, leading to "data exhaust."
Not only has the amount and content of student information generated by the assessment consortium created concern among parents but the technological capabilities also have as well.
During the Dec. 2013 Harrison County Common Core forum, Diana Marra, parent of a sophomore at Bridgeport High School and involved in the educational system for 10 years as a parent volunteer while serving on several committees, said the number of usable devices compatible with the field test testing environment deserves additional dialogue.
While Bridgeport has a total of 616 devices, it is projected that there realistically are 215 that could be used to administer the field test. Of the 215 devices, Marra said it is important to realize 110 of those devices are in labs used to teach business and computer information classes.
"We have 105 computers available for testing that would not disrupt any regularly taught class," she said.
Marra's concern is that by using the 110 computers in labs where classes are taught, students with classes in those labs would be disrupted.
"You may have students who have a business concentration," she said. "We're on block schedule. Two of those (four) classes may be in those business classes and (the students) will not have access to those labs for the 10, 15, 20 education days."
Others express concern that the software has the potential to be more than computers can handle.
In Cheshire, Conn., the software crashed the local school's Internet. Other schools in other areas also have reported log-in issues and other technical glitches.
What is consent
When it comes to parental consent, D'Brot said a day of field testing "will operate under the guise as the traditional operation of a school day."
There is a recommended parent letter that tries to "inform parents as much as possible" about what the field test entails, he said.
D'Brot did not reply by press time when asked if it is mandatory the recommended parent letters are sent to parents and whether the absence of a yes or no answer to participate in the field test equates consent.
Institutional review board
According to D'Brot, the field test is not meant to assess students, but rather to assess how the state does as a whole and how well the field test items are working. The information gathered will be used to shape the next assessment test — the Smarter Balanced Operational Test — that will be administered in the spring of 2015.
Because some assert children are being used to test a test, thereby acting in a research environment, they raise the question of whether or not the testing falls under the Institutional Review Board, or IRB.
The argument is without students participating in the field test, the research needed to develop the next round of assessments couldn't be generated.
Federal regulations define "human subjects" as living individual(s) about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual or (2) identifiable private information."
Many argue that the students are "human subjects," with the assessment consortium acting as an investigator in order to conduct educational research. Through the educational research packaged and generated via the new assessment model, data (in the form of student answers) is obtained through intervention with the individual (via a computer screen).
Research activities in which the involvement of human subjects are exempt under IRB guidelines include "research involving the use of educational test (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures or observation of public behavior, unless: (i.) information obtained is recorded in such a manner that human subjects can be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects; and (ii.) any disclosure of the human subjects' responses outside the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects' financial standing, employability or reputation."
Many opponents of the testing consortiums argue that with the amount of student information collected, students can be identified through identifiers.
Even if the research is found to be exempt, "subjects still must provide informed consent for their participation in the study. At a minimum, the investigator(s) must inform the subjects what they will be asked to do if they agree to participate in the research, how long the research will take and how the confidentiality of the information they provide will be protected. The investigator(s) must also tell the subjects that their participation is voluntarily, they can refuse to answer questions that they do not wish to answer and they can refuse to participate or they can withdraw at any time without penalty or repercussion."
Despite the fact that the "IRB may waive the requirement for informed consent," that decision ultimately lies with the IRB. According to IRB guidelines, if it is not granted, the informed consent requirements stand.