Archive for Thursday, March 30, 2006

District seeks repeat on assessments

Last year’s strong performance means little in light of a new set of tests

March 30, 2006

Last summer, Eudora USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza said the district's success on the state's standardized assessment tests was like winning a state championship in six of eight activities.

This year, it would be as if the discus toss required a pole and the long jump occurred in an Olympic-sized pool.

For students, the last week-and-a-half of standardized tests have been an entirely new experience.

"It's a brand new game. I mean, we have a brand new test. They are totally different from what they were last year," district curriculum director Carolyn Warren said.

The tests may have thrust the district back to square one as far as knowing what to expect, but the spirit behind the preparation remains the same.

"You're not going to compare the two at all. It's going to be apples to oranges," Warren said. "Sure you're going to have the same indicators, but this is just a different test."

Administrators are still confident in the abilities of the students despite the changes.

Last week, Eudora High School students tested their reading skills through an online assessment.

"We think we did pretty well. I got results (Friday) and it looks good but you don't know ---- because it's a new test ---- until the cut scores come out," Eudora High School Principal Dale Sample said.

Once the state releases cut scores, the district will know if it achieved standards of excellence. Historically, preliminary information is released by summer, but the results won't be official until the beginning of the next school year.

"I think we did pretty well, but it's hard for me to say that until I know the expectation of the state on this particular test," Sample said.

The tests, however, represent the culmination of a process that has being going on throughout the school year.

"Both our reading and math are aligned to the state indicators and state standards, which the indicators come out of, so we've worked with everyone that teaches reading in the district and teaches math in the district and the alignment in the curriculum," Warren said.

Eighth-grade English teacher Bob Sailler said he has incorporated some of the key indicators and skills required for the students to succeed on the tests in his curriculum.

"We read the Civil War novel "Soldier's Heart" as a class and in conjunction with Mr. Deman's social studies instruction," Sailler said. "I tailor quiz questions over the book in the same format as the state assessment."

Although still focused on the tests, Sailler keeps his curriculum in the forefront.

"The danger, of course, is to overemphasize the importance of the test. It's far more important for middle school students to develop positive attitudes toward reading and a love of literature than to learn how to take tests," Sailler said. "I try to make the test prep as unobtrusive as possible."

During the course of the past week, the district has been working to find ways to best administer the tests.

"One of the biggest challenges this year was figuring the time for the test," Eudora Middle School principal Don Grosdidier said. "When the state wrote the test, it said it would take 45 minutes for the average student to complete. What people have found who have taken the test initially is that it's not correct.

"It's taking closer to an hour for the average student and in some cases, it's taking as long as 90 minutes."

Part of the challenge this year was crafting a schedule that allowed for ample time for each of the students so they're not rushed, Grosdidier said.

"The second challenge is it's a completely different test and it's given at more grade levels than we've ever given it before," Grosdidier said.

It's the first year the middle school has tested both sixth- and seventh-graders in reading and math.

"The volume of the testing has increased and that's been another challenge," Grosdidier said.

Although more so in the high school, district leaders have used incentives to inspire their students.

"We've had different kinds of foods and drinks and things like that, and we've allowed them to watch a movie ---- different things along those lines to celebrate their success," Grosdidier said.

In the high school, the list of incentives is more developed. Various motivators include loss of elective credits for further tutoring if a student achieves below satisfactory and positive incentives include the possibility of a day off and exemption from finals, Sample said.

Grosdidier said he thinks his students will perform well this year, but he has a caveat.

It would be difficult to immediately preview scores from this test, Grosdidier said.

"You can't compare scores this year with scores last year because it's a completely new test," Grosdidier said. "It's a completely new ball game, so to speak."

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