Bad timing causes test scores to suffer
School officials say a drop in performance on a set of standardized tests by DeSoto 11th-graders was partly a matter of bad timing.
The Iowa Test of Basic Skills came the week the district had mass absences because of a threat of violence at Starside Elementary School.
The test also came soon after state assessment tests, which some officials think caused test fatigue.
The result was that DeSoto juniors taking the Iowa test scored lower than juniors the three previous years. This year's students scored in the 69th percentile, a drop of five points from a year ago and 16 points from scores two and three years ago.
Along with the juniors, students in third, sixth and ninth grades took the Iowa tests. DeSoto third-graders scored in the 92nd percentile, up one point from last year. Sixth graders scored in the 89th percentile, down one point from last year and DeSoto freshmen scored in the 82nd percentile, the same as last year's class.
The percentile rankings show how the students compare nationally to those of other school districts.
In discussing the scores at last week's school board meeting, DeSoto High Principal Joe Novak said the timing of the test might explain the lower scores.
Many students stayed home for several days after the threats at Starside Elementary, Novak said, leaving high school faculty and staff members scrambling to get the tests completed after students returned.
"A lot of students were out for three days right in the middle of the testing and those absent were some of our best kids," he said.
When the students returned, many of them used their seminar time, normally set aside for doing homework and studying, to take the tests.
"A lot of the kids didn't like that because they depend on that time to study," Cindy Crabtree, high school counselor, said.
In the end, Novak said, the school sent about 70 percent of the tests back fully completed.
"I would like to think if we had regular attendance, our scores would have reflected a higher ranking," he said.
The lower scores of the junior class led Novak to rethink how the standardized tests should be given by the district.
According to state requirements, each school district must use three forms of testing to determine how its students are progressing. The scores are reviewed by state accreditation teams that visit the school every three years.
The district currently gives the Iowa test to juniors in the spring, not long after the same students are given state assessment tests. Novak said students this year complained of being over-tested and suggested the tests be given earlier in the year.
Crabtree said 11th-grade students also take college preparatory tests in the spring, causing many of them to feel burned out by the time they take the Iowa tests.
Monica Davenport, the district's director of curriculum said she too suspects the low scores on the Iowa tests were a result of over testing. She will know more once the state assessment scores are finalized, she explained.
"We only have preliminary data on the state tests now, but it looks like we're going to be in 80th percentile. I know these same students scored in the 84th percentile on the Iowa tests as freshman," she said.
All students in the district, including the 11th-graders, have done well on the local assessment tests, Davenport said, leading her to believe the Iowa scores are misleading.
District officials have set a standard for the all grade levels that at least 80 percent of students score at least an 80 percent on 80 percent of the curriculum. According to local assessment scores, last year's students met the standard.
"That leads me to believe that something's not happening well with the process," she said. "Right now, it looks like I'm going to recommend that the Iowa tests for juniors be moved to the fall."
Mindy Salamans, officer of academic affairs for the Eudora School District agrees timing is important when giving assessment tests.
"We give the Iowa test in the spring for all students except those in high school. We give the high school tests in the fall because of all the other testing and activities going on in the spring for high school students," she said.
Because DeSoto High School received its state accreditation last year, Davenport said, the low test scores on the Iowa tests should not present a problem, provided the scores go up next year.
"We have to show improvement over a five-year period and we were on the first cycle since the accreditation visit. So, depending on how you look at it, it could actually help us. I'm confident the scores will go up if we move the tests to the fall," she said.