This week’s public release of a flurry of student test data has local school officials focusing on the positive while they work to eliminate the negative.
Under the new K-PREP system of accountability, student testing data from ACT, Inc. is being used in several different ways to gauge the success of school districts.
It’s proving to be a long and involved process, and as often confusing to teachers and administrators as it can be confounding for parents.
“It’s as complicated a system as I’ve ever seen,” said Sheila Smith, assessment coordinator for Middlesboro Independent Schools.
Under this system students are being tested in the eighth, tenth and eleventh grades. Schools are now being held accountable for the progress of students at each step as measured by the EXPLORE (eighth grade), PLAN (sophomore) and ACT (junior) tests. But that progress is measured in different ways.
While each of these tests attempts to measure student knowledge in the same subject areas of English, math, reading and science; a large part of the state’s accountability system focuses on “progress” as measured by growth in the scores by individuals as well as groups of students at each age.
For example, while 16 percent of the accountability score for middle schools is placed on the EXPLORE test, 20 percent of the accountability score for high schools is determined by the “growth” achieved by students between when they take the PLAN test as sophomores and then the ACT test when they are juniors.
Another 20 percent of a high school’s accountability is determined by the number of students who meet the benchmark score (national norm) of the ACT, meaning 40 percent of a high school’s rating is based on student performance on that single test.
Since the accountability system is just being implemented, school administrators have yet to experience the full impact of that legislative decision.
So far, local administrators note the progress that has been made, and are using the new data to evaluate their strategies to improve student performance and preparedness for college and careers.
For example, Middlesboro has partnered with Lincoln Memorial University to assist in student preparations for the ACT, Smith said.
According to Paula Goodin, assessment coordinator at Pineville, their district is going to the expense to give the EXPLORE and PLAN tests to students a year early so that each student can have specific information about their academic strengths and weaknesses in time to address them and adjust school resources accordingly.
“We plan to continue to analyze our data to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, so we may continue to provide our students with the highest quality instruction in all of our schools,” said Barbara Warren, assessment coordinator for Bell County Schools.
On both the state and local level, higher scores indicate the percentage of students on track to be ready for credit-bearing college coursework has increased since last year, and greatly since the tests were first given in 2006. Still everyone acknowledges a great deal of work remains to be done.
“While we’re pleased with the progress we are seeing, we have not done as well as we would like to,” Smith added, “and that’s why we’re sharing this information and working with our principals and teachers every day.”
Smith developed charts that include test scores for every school in the thirteenth region, the schools everyone is familiar with because those are the ones they regularly compete with athletically.
“There’s a natural competitive instinct that’s good to tap into,” she said. “We want to do well, and we want to stand up tall in the eyes of our peers.”