Editorial: Extensive tech testing may prevent glitches with Common Core tests

When Common Core standardized tests launch in spring 2015, they will be administered primarily by computer, raising questions of compatibility with the vast array of systems now in place in K-12 schools across the nation.

It’s gratifying — especially given the computer problems plaguing the Affordable Care Act’s rollout — to see test developers taking the problem seriously and devising strategies to find and solve problems early.

Oregon, along with 24 other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is aligned with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Corsortium, which is asking companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft to pay to test and certify their products. According to a report in the national newspaper Education Week, the companies would pay $35,000 per year for each type of device. A separate process would address technology designed to help students with disabilities.

Although Smarter Balanced tests are designed to work with common operating systems, the planning acknowledges the variety of devices and software now in use. The tests depend on the devices’ ability to handle animation, video and drag-and-drop features, says Education Week, in addition to blocking search engines and the ability to send screen captures to someone else.

The ACA has made the general public aware of what techies have long known: Big rollouts are unimaginably complex, and success depends on an extensive effort to anticipate problems and widespread testing to find and solve them.

Smarter Balanced is also planning a field test in spring 2014 that will involve millions of students, again seeking to find and solve glitches of all types before the tests become official the next year.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, called PARCC, is the other major consortium creating Common Core tests. Rather than using a certification process, it plans to identify requirements for devices that would be used for its tests.

No testing system can anticipate and solve all the possible problems, but the extensive process now underway for Common Core testing shows promise of keeping difficulties to a manageable level.