Students start taking new state tests this week under more flexible schedule

State testing got underway in Washington schools this week, with more than 6,000 students so far tackling new, tougher exams known as Smarter Balanced.

It was just the start of what will be a busy spring testing season, as schools administer the new online tests. They are tied to a set of national standards known as the Common Core, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.

Nearly 60 of the state’s 295 school districts kicked off testing Tuesday, including schools in University Place and Puyallup. Tacoma students will begin testing March 17.

While some minor glitches were reported, state officials say the launch of the new system has mostly gone smoothly so far.

Unlike the previous testing schedule, schools and school districts have more flexibility on when to administer the tests, within a broad window that covers roughly the final 12 weeks of the school year. (Some high school students who still need to pass state tests to graduate could be testing into June, however.)

Most districts are starting with English language arts tests for third-graders. That’s because a new state law requires schools to review those scores for the lowest-achieving third-graders with parents, teachers and the principal before the end of this school year. They must then develop a plan for intervention.

Testing for other grade levels will follow in the coming weeks.

Kristen Jaudon, spokeswoman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said there have been a few minor missteps during the first week of testing, but “nothing that rises to a level of concern.”

“Any problems that have arisen have been addressed quickly,” she said.

A handful of students in University Place — about 10 — were booted off the online system midtest, Superintendent Patti Banks said. But she said the problem was fixed within a day. She estimated just over 240 UP students have been tested so far.

Banks said the district has been planning carefully to ensure the new testing goes as smoothly as possible.

“Too much is out of our control,” she said. “But what is within our control, we will manage.”

She said district employees began working to master the technology in January, and that trained tech support staff are available in each school during testing.

“We put a lot of pressure on our teachers to be calm and to be patient,” Banks said. “They have really done that. I’m proud of our teachers.”

In Puyallup, about 500 students in 11 schools took the new tests this week.

Glenn Malone, the district testing director, said that in addition to third-graders, some special education high school students have begun testing.

Last year, all Puyallup elementary schools and junior highs participated in a nationwide field test of the Smarter Balanced tests. Malone said the preparation has paid off, although he, too, reported a handful of students who were initially affected by technical problems. As in UP, they were able to log back in and complete the tests.

Malone said a few schools also ran into difficulty on the first day, when students inadvertently logged in to an interim test instead of the final version. He said the problem was attributed to a design flaw on the state testing website, and that students were able to take the correct exam the next day.

On the first day of testing, University Place teacher Mary Ann Roberts affirmed her superintendent’s assessment of smooth sailing in a Facebook post.

She reported that some students even came to school dressed for success, “a few girls in dresses with hair curled, and a few boys in collared shirts wearing their lucky shoes.”

“They were so PROUD,” Roberts wrote.