LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County public school students will see new, and fewer, tests that measure their progress on curriculum benchmarks this year.
District officials recommended the adoption of Discovery Education exams, which would be given approximately quarterly, because they tie in to the Common Core State Standards that the district is working to fully implement by 2014. The new exams, approved by the School Board on Tuesday, also will include a bank of questions for teachers to use for smaller quizzes, as well as videos and other lesson supplements they can access instantly to help students who have trouble with specific questions or concepts.
"We're just really looking forward to having the teacher resources that this can give us," said Nancy Richie, a Hudson Elementary School third grade teacher who has reviewed the materials. "It's going to deliver what our kids need and it's going to deliver what our teachers need to help our kids."
Discovery Education will take the place of CORE K-12 tests, which district accountability, research and measurement director Peggy Jones said did not connect to the Common Core and also did not provide data that teachers found useful. They also will replace the state's FAIR reading assessments, which had been given three times a year leading up to the FCAT.
Jim Ciadella, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco teacher unit, said he expected the change would provide some of the relief that superintendent Kurt Browning promised when he settled a grievance with elementary teachers who complained about too much testing and too many meetings.
"I'm hoping the advantage for teachers is, this is going to streamline the amount of time and effort it has taken in the past couple of years to assess their students," Ciadella said.
The first round of Discovery tests are scheduled to be given in a paper-and-pencil format the week of Sept. 3. The answers will be scanned, and results will be delivered back to teachers in time for their training on the computerized version of the system, Jones said.
Having their own students' information in front of them as they train should help teachers see in real time how the model works. The second round of testing would be fully computerized.
"We believe this one is going to provide the information that is going to make a difference for our students and for our teachers," Jones said, stressing that these 40-minute tests do not carry high stakes and instead are intended to guide instruction. "You need to know where your students are before you plan."
Richie said the FAIR tests did provide some good information on student abilities and needs. She looked forward to seeing the Discovery program in action.
One of the big things that excited her was the online supplemental items. In the past, teachers have had to use extra time to search out additional materials for children.
"Unfortunately, not every adopted material meets every need. This probably won't meet everyone's needs," she said. "But it is at our fingertips. ... This helps us differentiate in a whole new way, in an easier way."
Another positive for the district: The Discovery Education contract came in at $525,799, about $100,000 less than what CORE K-12 cost in the past, according to Jones.
She said the administration will seek feedback from teachers throughout the year to see if the Discovery system's reports, materials and tests work well and should be renewed.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.