New statewide exam to test students’ critical thinking

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Changes in Indiana's academic standards will change how students are taught, shifting the emphasis from multiple-choice exams to essay-based tests that show students' mastery of concepts and the impact of historical events.

The new test, which is being created by 24 states that are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, will debut in Indiana in 2015, the Daily Journal reported.

The test will replace the ISTEP exam currently taken by Indiana students in grades 3 through 11 and end-of-course assessments taken at the end of algebra 1 and English 10 classes, said Wes Bruce, the Indiana Department of Education's chief assessment officer.

The ISTEP exams currently require students to read stories and answer questions about characters and the author's main idea. Math tests give students word problems that require them to decide which details are needed to answer the question.

The new test will still assess math, English, social studies and science skills, but it will be administered online. Students might be shown a video clip that's paired with an online article on the same topic. They will write an essay that details the similarities and differences between the clip and the article and creates a conclusion from the information provided.

Other essays will involve using an Internet search engine to research a topic, then writing a response.

Rick Ahlgrim, director of secondary education for Greenwood Community Schools, said the new standards and test are designed to prepare students for college and careers beyond graduation.

"(Teachers) are going to have to help students become as proficient in the acquisition of knowledge, the processing of knowledge and then the dissemination or demonstration of knowledge as the teacher is. This is getting kids college- and career-ready," he said.

The new exam will have fewer standards than Indiana's current exams, but it will require students to show they understand more than dates and formulas.

For math, that might involve solving an algebra problem and then using the answer to help solve a multi-step geometry problem, Bruce said. It means it's not enough to know that Christopher Columbus sailed to America; students also will need to understand the impact of that voyage and be able to write about it clearly.

The computerized test also will give students more interactive ways to solve problems. A science question could display a model of the human body and ask students to draw arrows to different bones or organs. An English portion of the test could have students drag and group different kinds of words together, Bruce said.

Bruce said the test format will better resemble technology-based lessons students already are receiving in their classrooms.

Public colleges in Indiana and other states will accept the test instead of placement exams they typically give incoming freshmen. Bruce said that will allow schools and students to know earlier whether students need additional help before enrolling in college full-time.

A practice version of the test will be given to a small group of Indiana students next year and again in 2014. The test will be administered statewide in 2015.

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