This time, there will be more than one correct answer

Local students will get a taste of California's new state testing system this spring.

The Del Norte County Unified School District will conduct a field test of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment System at each of its schools, said Education Technology Coordinator Rae Fearing. Every student in grades 3 through 8, and some at Del Norte and Sunset high schools, will participate, she said.

The state has given the district from April 7 to May 16 to do its tests, Fearing said. Administrators and teachers are still trying to figure out how that will work. Students are expected to experience 3andfrac12; to 4 hours of testing this year, she said.

"We are going to test on multiple devices," Fearing said, adding that students at Smith River School experienced a pilot test last year. "We'll use iPads, Chromebooks and both PC and Mac desktop computers. We tried them out last year and it worked on all of them. We're confident we can facilitate testing on all those devices this year."

More than 3 million students in California are expected to participate in a "test of the test" this spring to determine how well the Smarter Balanced assessment questions and technology work, according to the California Department of Education. Field testing begins March 18 and runs through June 6.

Aligned with the Common Core State Standards in English-language arts and mathematics, which California adopted in 2010, the Smarter Balanced assessments will feature more "thinking-based questions," said Del Norte Superintendent Don Olson.

California lawmakers last year ended the state's 15-year-old Standardized Testing and Reporting system, or STAR, to allow schools to implement the new Smarter Balanced assessments system.

Lawmakers last year also appropriated $1.25 billion to help districts adopt the new education requirements. Earlier this month, the local School Board authorized the district to spend $329,000 of its $729,000 allotment on new technology, including laptops, iPads and Google Chromebooks along with the software.

The field test will give district officials the opportunity to use that technology and will allow them to see how well students do on a Common Core-based test, Olson said.

"There's rarely a single (right) answer," he said. "There might be four or five answers that are correct and you have to be sure to find all four of those. It involves a lot more thinking skills."

To prepare for the field test, the district's information-technology department, headed by Chris York, will assess the technology at each school site, Fearing said. This includes installing a secure Internet browser that will prevent students from leaving the test site and accessing other Web sites. And since there will be audio and video components on the tests, the district's technology staff must make sure there is enough bandwidth to allow multiple students to participate in those features at the same time, she said.

The district's 250 teachers are also receiving special training. For the past two months, Fearing said she has been helping them take the practice tests that are available online. They also need to learn how to administer the tests. This includes logging their students on to their individual computers and matching the student's name with what's on screen, she said.

A few teachers have already begun adapting to the changes, Fearing said.

"Sixth-grade teachers at Crescent Elk took the practice test and immediately they are changing what they do," she said. "They're moving a lot of their activities and curriculum online."

Some classes in the district are already going "paperless," turning assignments in and getting feedback via the online office suite Google Docs, Olson said. Once the district gets its additional technology, more classes will go paperless, he said.

For more information about the Smarter Balanced assessments, visit

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