Our Voice: The latest standardized test has a lot going for it

The new statewide standardized test is launching in school districts around the Mid-Columbia, and it comes with a caution for parents: Please be patient and give the Smarter Balanced Assessment a chance.

This test is more rigorous than what many students are used to, and school officials are expecting scores to be low after this first go-around. However, they predict they will improve in time as students get used to the new standards.

What matters is that students are being challenged with higher expectations.

Some testing began in March, but most students will take the exam in the next several weeks after spring break. The exam has drawn controversy around the country because it tests how well students are mastering the national Common Core learning standards, and some people see Common Core as an unwanted federal intrusion.

But regardless of its connection to Common Core, the new state test has a lot going for it.

For one, the test is computerized and adapts to a student’s ability level. Questions become more difficult for students who are answering them correctly and easier for those who don’t. Students either pass or fail the test, but there is no ranking among peers because it is individualized.

The Language Arts test is very different from past tests. Former exams required students to respond to a prompt from one piece of text. This test will ask students to read several articles and then answer questions. It is an approach similar to what is required when writing research papers, since information is gleaned from a variety of sources. That’s good preparation for the future.

In the math test, students will find some questions will have more than one right response and more than one way to get to an answer. That may pose a challenge for students who are used to math problems having only one solution, but again, the new approach better prepares them for the real world.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is so highly regarded that Washington’s public four-year universities and community colleges have agreed to place high school students who score a 3 or higher into college-level math and English courses without requiring them to take placement tests that are typically administered to incoming college freshmen.

That agreement reinforces the high standards of the test and the curriculum behind it. In the past, even students with top grades could not always pass the entrance exams to some colleges. These higher expectations mean high school students truly should be ready for college when they graduate.

Standardized tests are part of public education, and this one raises the bar. Parents need to give it time and remember a rigorous education matters more than high test scores.