FARMINGTON — New Mexico students — including those in San Juan County — will take their annual state standards-based assessment test this month as the transition to a new exam based on national Common Core standards begins.

And it will be the last time they put pencil to paper. Future tests will be entirely computer-based.

The testing window for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment started on Monday. All students in third through eighth grades and sophomores and juniors in high school will take the Bridge assessment exam to measure the progress students have made in the areas of language arts, math and science.

Vista Nueva sophomore Kacee Edwards, right, plays a game of experimental probability tic-tac-toe with guidance counselor Rebekah Deane in Aztec on Thursday
Vista Nueva sophomore Kacee Edwards, right, plays a game of experimental probability tic-tac-toe with guidance counselor Rebekah Deane in Aztec on Thursday while preparing for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams. (Megan Farmer/The Daily Times)

Aztec Municipal School District's Director of Instruction Judy Engleheart said this year's assessment includes questions based on both the current New Mexico state standards and the new Common Core-based standards.

Next year, students will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Assessment, or PARCC, which was created by a partnership among 24 states and uses the Common Core standards.

The PARCC exam will be entirely computer-based.

"The Common Core questions might seem somewhat more difficult and could require more of a critical thinking stance," Engleheart said. "I'm more concerned about transitioning from paper-based testing to computer-based testing."

The New Mexico Public Education Department this year allowed districts to volunteer to test a computer-based version of this year's test.

Leighann Lenti, New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary, said about 25 percent of schools across the state will test the computer-based exam in preparation for next year.

"We thought it would be an early opportunity to help our schools prepare in terms of how the test might look and feel ... to help them get ready earlier," Lenti said. "And we're happy a quarter of the schools are taking this option."

Vista Nueva juniors Erlinda Barron, right, and Ali Spaulding work with thesis statements in an English class in Aztec on Thursday while preparing for the
Vista Nueva juniors Erlinda Barron, right, and Ali Spaulding work with thesis statements in an English class in Aztec on Thursday while preparing for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams. (Megan Farmer/The Daily Times)

Students at Vista Nueva High School in Aztec will be taking the computer-based test along with students in grades three through eight in Bloomfield Schools and Central Consolidated School District's Tse' Bit Ai' Middle School in Shiprock. Farmington Municipal Schools will be testing all students with the computer-based test.

CCSD spokesman James Preminger said bandwidth and computer availability were concerns along with rolling blackouts in the Newcomb and Naschitti area.

Robert Emerson, Farmington Municipal Schools assistant superintendent of educational services, said about 5,000 computers in the district were tested and updated to work with the computer-based assessment, and network tests were conducted to see if students had connectivity issues.

With middle school and high school students taking the test on their assigned Apple computer laptops, most problems were related to overloaded wireless network access points.

New equipment was installed at some schools and others will relocate students within their buildings during test times in an effort to evenly spread out network loads.

Emerson oversaw two days of testing at Northeast Elementary School and said he is confident about the students' ability to handle the assessment on the computer.

"They take tests on the computers all the time and it doesn't seem as strange to them," Emerson said. "They don't seems fazed by this at all."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.