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As Waterloo Schools' prepare for new statewide tests, board members try practice exam

WATERLOO — Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?

The question, made famous by a TV quiz show, seemed appropriate as Board of Education members learned about the state’s new standardized tests by taking a fifth-grade practice math exam during a work session last week. Waterloo Community Schools will administer the online Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress for the first time starting Monday.

Board members were also given a chance to check out practice versions of other tests at various grade levels in reading, writing, math and science during the session. The general public can go online and take the tests, as well, at These practice tests have a similar format but different content than the actual exams students will take.

Developed for the state by Pearson Education, the series of tests replace the Iowa Assessments, which were paper and pencil exams. Students will receive a printout with a unique ID so they can sign on to a computer and take the tests. During the first year, districts can choose to give the test on paper, but Waterloo decided for the online option.

“This is not a small change for us,” Superintendent Jane Lindaman told the board at an earlier meeting.

Three of the tests will be given in grades three through 11 while the science assessment will only be taken by students in grades five, eight and 10.

“We used to do second grade,” said Darren Hanna, director of elementary education, but won’t with the new test. “Probably the biggest change is the test is untimed.”

Along with multiple choice, students could encounter 13 other types of questions on the tests such as filling in the blank, completing graphs and number lines, and putting elements in order. Written answers will also be part of the tests, and open ended essays are a central part of the writing test.

Guidelines recommend 60 minutes for all the tests but the writing exam, which has three sections and a recommended time of 120 minutes. Students can work longer on the tests and don’t have to finish them in one sitting. However, “the recommendation is when you start an assessment you finish it in the same day,” said Hanna.

“This test is Iowa specific, aligned to the Iowa Core,” he noted. After the tests are scored, students will be ranked as proficient, advanced or not proficient based on a National Standard Score. Older standardized assessments like the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills gave students a percentile ranking comparing them to their peers.

Waterloo Schools plans to have students complete the tests by April 30. “I would say the bulk of the testing will be done in the first couple weeks,” said Lindaman. The rest of the month would be available for make-up time if a student is absent when any of the tests are scheduled.

All school districts have to administer the tests at some point between the beginning of March and the end of May. Students in many other area school districts are also taking the tests during April.

Cedar Falls Community Schools secondary students will start Monday. Elementary schools begin testing April 15. Union, Dike-New Hartford, Jesup and Independence community schools are among the area districts that will also start testing this week.

Dike-New Hartford technology director Chad Bixby expects the testing to be successful overall, but admitted some challenges are possible. “We all know with new online testing and different devices taking it there will be a few bugs to work out,” he said.

Waverly-Shell Rock Community Schools just finished testing third graders and will start with fourth graders this week. The district’s middle and high schools will also be taking the assessments during April.

Hudson Community Schools will begin testing April 15, and Superintendent Tony Voss said a lot has been done to get ready. “We have spend quite a bit of time training our teachers and completing practice tests with students, so we are a bit anxious about how this new system will work,” he said.

After spending a little time exploring the practice tests last week, several Waterloo school board members expressed satisfaction with the online format. Taking the 20-question fifth grade math test did stir up some other feelings, though.

“It just made me anxious because I haven’t taken a test in a while,” said board member Rhonda McRina.

Board member Sue Flynn said the wording may have caused her problems with one question on the test.

“I think I may be even with a fifth grader,” she quipped. However, “I don’t want to try the 12th grade tests.”


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Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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