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Lower test scores expected with new, computerized exams

Two years ago, state school officials abandoned a pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice test in favor of new computerized exams to measure California students’ knowledge of English language arts and math, with scores they’ll compare against students in other states.

But now, as Burbank students began taking those exams last week, local school officials are asking the community not to panic when the scores are released because they are expected to be lower than what they were on the previous test.

The computer-adaptive test responds to how students answer questions, meaning that if a student answers one question incorrectly, they will be prompted with an easier question. If a student answers a question correctly, the exam will give the student a more difficult question.

During a school board meeting last Thursday, Sharon Cuseo, assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessment, said about 30% to 40% of Burbank students are expected to be labeled as “proficient” — a sharp decrease compared to how they ranked on the previous standardized exams when students were collectively 70% to 80% proficient.


But even with the projected decrease, Cuseo said it should be no cause for alarm.

“The message that I really want to stress and I really want the community to hear is that our students have not changed, our instruction has not changed. We still have great teachers and great things happening in the classroom,” she said. “The only variable in this is the test itself. And it will take some time to acclimate to the test but it is not that great things are not happening in classrooms and that our students aren’t being prepared… So there’s no need to panic.”

State education officials were careful to highlight any caution over the potential difference in students’ scores.

In a statement sent out earlier this month, California State Supt. Tom Torlakson said he expects students’ scores would improve over time.


“The new tests are too different from the old exams to make reliable comparisons between old scores and new,” he said in the statement. “This year’s test results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.”

Burbank students will take the exams through April, with students spending seven to eight and a half hours taking the exam.

Scores are due out this summer, but state education officials have not yet revealed the date they will be released.

The Burbank school district piloted the new exams last spring, but the state did not release scores. Instead, they focused on how the computerized exam functioned on a technical level.

So far, Cuseo said the exam has functioned well in Burbank schools.

“We expect a smooth testing season,” she said.