It was only practice, but eighth-graders at the Eugene Tighe School in Margate bent seriously over their Chromebooks on Monday as they worked their way through an Algebra 1 test.

Nearby, teacher Sherry Scott helped them log on, and technology coordinator Michael Morris monitored how well the Chromebooks handled the test and the broadband connection handled the test load.

“We’ve had some minimal issues,” Morris said. “But it is the first year. We’re all working out kinks.”

Students in grades three through eight and some high school English and math students will take new state tests starting next week. Schools will have until March 27 to test all eligible students in the tests developed by Pearson for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a coalition of 12 states, including New Jersey. A second round of testing will begin at the end of April.

The month leading up to the test has been full of public outcry against the plan, including a television ad campaign by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.

But as the test day approaches, local school officials are taking the lead from singer Taylor Swift and advising students to just shake it off and do their best.

“We’re really trying to downplay the drama,” said Margate Superintendent John DiNicola. “We’re saying, ‘We know it’s the first time. Just do your best.’”

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A bill that would delay using the test results for any student placement was approved by a vote 63-7-3 in the Assembly on Monday and awaits consideration by the state Senate. The state Department of Education has already deferred mandatory passage of the test as a high school requirement for at least the first three years.

Margate has scheduled about a half-dozen infrastructure tests this week, during which different groups of students will take practice tests, and teachers and Morris will monitor how their technology performs. Morris said the district has invested in the Chromebooks and expanded wireless access, and he expects no serious problems. Still, he didn’t mind when a couple of the Chromebooks didn’t boot up properly, because it gave Scott and supervisor Laureen Cohen a chance to practice what to do if a Chromebook crashes during the test.

Scott handled a reboot, and the test popped back up at the spot where the student had been working.

Districts that have already linked their curriculum to the Common Core State Standards on which the PARCC tests are based seem less anxious about the new test.

“The tests look like what we’ve been teaching,” said Tighe school Principal and Director of Curriculum and Assessment Audrey Becker.

Scott said the algebra test does include some things she has not yet taught this year, and that may be addressed in the final test in the spring.

“But we’re all in the same boat,” she said of algebra teachers statewide.

Students said the practice test was challenging. Some liked the computer-based test, calling it fun, others not so much. Scott reminded them that they will take the same Algebra 1 test as high school students, which is different from the math test taken by other eighth-graders.

“I like having a pencil in my hand, and that’s what we’re used to from the ASK test,” Michaela Sless, 13, said comparing old state test to its replacement.

The computer-based calculator also took some getting used to.

“I like the feel of a calculator in my hand,” said Sam Gluck, 14. “It takes longer using the one on the computer.”

Catherine Agostini, 14, said she is more concerned about her slow typing skills on the language arts test, but administrators said she should have ample time.

Cohen said they have been working on accommodations for students with special needs. The use of headphones may make it easier for students who used to have test questions read to them because they will have more control over the process. Students can also highlight text, reading only one line at a time.

Some districts have posted practice questions and tests online that students can do at home, but others are relying on the teachers.

Wildwood Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings said since many of the district’s families cannot afford home computers, it has integrated technology into lessons to give students more practice.

“We are concerned that the new format will result in another bias for students of low-income environments,” he said.

Technology issues statewide are still a concern. The state allocated $10 per student in additional state aid this year for upgrades, hardly enough in many districts. Egg Harbor Township added four new computer labs, including one at at the Joyanne Miller School funded by the Community Partnership for Egg Harbor Township Schools.

Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Chris Kobik said that district had to purchase more computers, more bandwidth and more wireless access points to meet the testing needs.

Some districts invested in portable Chromebooks, which allow students to test in their classrooms, leaving computer labs available for other use during the testing period. Middle Township Superintendent David Salvo said Chromebooks also have given teachers more opportunities to use the technology in class so students can build their confidence.

Northfield Community School did an infrastructure practice run on the test and plans a fun day Friday in the elementary school. Middle Township is planning an end-of-testing event with relay races and games.

“We are keeping it low-key due to all the anxiety,” said Northfield interim Superintendent Robert Garguilo.

Hammonton Superintendent C. Dan Blachford said his district’s curriculum is linked to the standards and he expects students to do fine.

“In N.J. we have been using state assessments for 30 years,” he said in an email. “Every time we get a new assessment people get upset. Then the teachers and students get used to it and do fine.”

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

@ACPressDamico on Twitter

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