Tricounty News

Tests, tests and more tests

Public schools are testing more today than ever before, and to the outside eye it may seem like there isn't even enough time to teach. Why do we do all the testing? We do all of this testing because of a little word which has taken on an almost "pop culture" status. The word is accountability. Accountability is all over the airwaves in campaign slogans promising change. Politicians are making promises of holding everyone more accountable including businesses, banks, and even schools. School accountability was the driving force of the federal legislative passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB). This piece of legislation reshaped how school districts measure the success of their students and their programming. It required states to establish measurable standards for all students in the subjects of reading, math, written language, and now science. States were required to develop a statewide assessment to monitor school accountability and measure student proficiency on the adopted standards. The State of Minnesota's current assessment is called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment II (MCA II). This assessment is currently in its second edition with the third under development. When the MCAs were first introduced only students in grades three and five were tested, with students in grade eight given the Basic Skills Test in order to graduate. Like government, the only constant in education is change. The Basic Skills Test (BST) will now be phased out with this year's senior class. Basic Skills are now assessed with the GRAD Test, which is actually "embedded" into the MCA tests given each spring. These MCA/GRAD tests are given in the high school to ninth through 11th grade. Ninth grade is measured on written composition, with tenth grade assessed in reading, and 11th grade in math. Students will receive two scores on these tests (an MCA score and a GRAD score). Students must have a passing GRAD score in order to graduate and receive a diploma from a Minnesota public high school. If a student does not earn a passing score on the GRAD portion of the test, he/she has the opportunity to retest. At Kimball Elementary School (KES) we now administer the MCA II reading and math tests to students in grades three through six, and science tests to only grade five. As a state we have more than doubled the number of students being assessed each spring. I remember taking the IOWA test of Basic Skills and the CogAt (ability test) a long, long time ago when I was in school. I recall it being a time of year when no one was allowed to talk, being glued to our seats, and fill in those fun little bubble sheets. It seemed like the day would never end. This is a great example of the more things change the more they stay the same. The MCAs follow a similar format, but we do try to break the testing up over a couple of days, fitting it into the testing window set by the Minnesota Department of Education. We also use these results more directly in the improvement of student learning, teacher instruction, and curriculum development. Kimball Public Schools also administers additional tests to benefit student learning and to help teachers determine specific student strengths and weaknesses. At KES we recently completed the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (MAPs) testing. We started using the MAPs assessment in 2007 to determine student annual growth as well as determining student strengths, weaknesses, and identifying students at-risk. The MAPs assessment is designed for each individual student and changes as the student demonstrates growth. KES uses this measurement twice a year. By identifying student needs we can determine if enrichment or remediation interventions are required. Program interventions may include Title I services (Chapter I of years ago) or special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is another example of federal legislation that directs how schools test and identify the needs of students (Public Law 94-142 or IDEA, special education). IDEA has been around since 1974, but was just recently updated and renewed. One of the most significant changes to IDEA was in the way students can be serviced, classified as at-risk, and possibly identified for special education. The change calls for states to enact a Response to Intervention (RtI) approach. The RtI approach requires the use of data gathered from research-based interventions, not just the measure of a discrepancy between an ability and achievement assessment. The data collected will show how an individual student's performance is strengthened, weakened, or remains unchanged as a result of changes done within the curriculum or classroom setting. As mentioned previously, in order to collect this information KES has adopted the MAPs assessment to help determine baseline data and identify potential at-risk students. We have also adopted curriculum measurement probes called Aims Web to determine the results of the intervention. At this time we are only using Aims Web with early literacy skills in grades K-2, but will hopefully be adding reading comprehension and basic math before the end of the year. All of this data will be used to help determine student, curriculum, and intervention needs. Teachers can then use this information to group students with similar needs and skill areas to advance reading levels, enrich curriculum, or increase pacing. Title I students can also benefit when teachers differentiate their instruction to different skill levels. By providing a system that gathers comprehensive data and tracks student's growth, we can better provide for the needs of all our students. KES has been fortunate to be a recipient of an RtI grant that has provided $8,000 over the past two years to assist in this process. In addition to the RtI process to identify academic needs, at the secondary level, Kimball High School also assesses students to meet a variety of other needs such as future career planning. Some of these assessments are the Explore taken in eighth grade, Plan in 10th grade, and the Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) taken in 11th grade. These assessments help guide student interest and course selections. Students may also take the PSAT in eleventh grade to prepare them for the SAT. The SAT is used for college entrance and scholarship opportunities for 12th-grade students. If students would like to earn college credits while attending Kimball High School, they are required to take the ACCU Placer to qualify for entrance into the available college courses. So even though it may seem like all we do is administer tests and report the results, a lot of hard work goes into interpreting and putting the results to good use for the benefit of student instruction. Remember, together as students, teachers, parents, and community, we are all accountable for the success of our schools. Our Elementary parent group says it best in their name "Partners in Education" (PIE).