More than 200 school districts in Oklahoma have signed up to use free practice tests through a new program offered by the state Education Department.
The state agency hired a company — CTB/McGraw-Hill — to administer state exams this year.
When state workers asked for contract proposals, testing companies had to lump in practice benchmark exams, said Maridyth McBee, assistant state superintendent for accountability and assessments.
“The purpose will be to give a snapshot of how well students are mastering the course content,” McBee said.
If students are doing well, teachers can stay on course. If they're doing poorly, teachers can backtrack.
It also will help students, who can see where they may need extra help or tutoring, McBee said.
On a district scale, administrators can compare the tests to see whether students in one class are struggling more than others.
The goal, McBee said, would be to intervene and help struggling teachers before state tests come around.
So far, about 220 districts out of the 521 in the state have signed up for the free exams, McBee said.
Some districts already use benchmark tests, but they have to pay for them, McBee said. Those districts may choose to stick with the companies they are using to provide the tests.
For example, Oklahoma City Public Schools buys benchmark practice tests, said George Kimball, chief information officer for the district.
The district uses a testing company that offers a huge database of practice questions for every grade and every subject, Kimball said. Teachers have the option of giving their own mini-tests, as well as the districtwide practice exams.
For now, Kimball said, Oklahoma City Public Schools will stick with its system because it is helpful to students, teachers and the district as a whole.
Benchmark practice exams throughout the year help guide teachers and students along the way until state exams are administered, he said.
“It shows them their progress,” he said. “You're not just sitting here, waiting until April saying, ‘Boy, I hope we do well.' You've got a blueprint to see how they're doing.”