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BELL Expands Use of Computer Adaptive Assessments

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BOSTON, MA - May 7, 2013 - This summer, BELL will roll out STAR Enterprise assessments in many of its summer program sites. These computer adaptive assessments measure scholars' skills in reading, math, and early literacy (grades K-1) and are aligned to Common Core State Standards. The new system will replace paper-based tests and improve BELL's ability to better understand scholars' academic needs, use data to drive instruction, and measure progress.

BELL is making the change to STAR because it will provide our team of educators with better data, more efficiently, and faster. While Stanford Diagnostic tests met our needs for years, academic standards are evolving and technology is more and more accessible and dependable in our partner schools. STAR is aligned to new standards, easy to use by staff and scholars, and offers a richer array of reporting capabilities that will lend deeper insight into scholar progress and program quality.

For example, STAR will better equip teachers with diagnostic and skill information for individual scholars, and help Program Managers and Lead Teachers utilize class instructional reports to group scholars based on needs and differentiate instruction accordingly. The benefits of the STAR Enterprise assessment system also include outstanding confidence among educators - more than 38 million STAR Enterprise assessments were administered during the last school year alone - which may strengthen our ability to form new school and district partnerships. Furthermore, the system is better able to support English language learners, another important benefit as we launch new initiatives specifically focused on ELL students.

BELL's team has prepared to make the transition from paper-based tests to computer adaptive assessments over the course of the last twelve months. Last summer, BELL piloted STAR Enterprise assessments in a handful of program sites, and broadened their use in after school programs. Now, we are training program staff members to utilize STAR in most summer sites. BELL's program staff lead scholars to a computer lab or other test setting. Scholars then log in via a web browser and take a short assessment that includes multiple choice questions aligned to state standards and the Common Core. The assessments adjust the difficulty of each question up or down based on a correct or incorrect response to the previous question. By adapting to each scholar's skill level, the computer adaptive assessments spare students the frustration of assessment questions that are too difficult, and the boredom of ones that are too easy. Furthermore, this adaptive capacity enables educators to hone in on specific scholar needs efficiently and accurately. It takes half the time as paper-based tests and eliminates the need for distributing paper test materials and pencils, collecting results, and processing score reports. It has been estimated that one computer adaptive question is equal to the power of 2-3 paper-based questions. STAR can be administered in many formats, including desktop and laptop computers, PC and Apple products, and even using a brand new iPad app.

STAR Enterprise assessments are considered "curriculum neutral" and can measure scholar progress across literacy and math skill domains that are part of any generalized curriculum. Literacy skill domains include word knowledge and skills; comprehension strategies and meaning construction; analyzing literary text; understanding author's craft; and analyzing argument and evaluating text. Math skill domains include numbers and operations; algebra; geometry and measurement; and data analysis, statistics, and probability.

The assessments provide norm- and criterion-referenced scores, just like the Stanford Diagnostic reading and math tests. Outcomes will continue to be defined in terms of grade-equivalent and percentile rank scores. Given the adaptive nature of the new assessments, and the more rigorous standards that they align to, we expect outcomes may differ slightly from past outcomes. Administering STAR Enterprise assessments on a broader scale for the first time this summer will provide insight into setting new baseline goals for scholar outcomes. BELL's team continues to explore how STAR Enterprise assessments can best define early literacy outcomes, and accordingly we are setting an initial baseline goal for scholars in grades K-1 that they will maintain skill levels or show improvement in STAR Early Literacy assessments.

BELL is able to make this change thanks to capacity-building support from the Social Innovation Fund, The Wallace Foundation, and others.