Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2004

Assessment conundrum

Motivation critical for mandated tests unrelated to student academic standing

February 26, 2004

As he anticipated the state assessment tests district students would take later this week, De Soto USD 232's Curriculum Director Doug Powers said he felt as he did before game in his days as a high school coach.
There was, however, one difference, Powers said.motivate students, it did have one stick that got some students attention, Powers said. Poor performance earned a student a place in a class designed to enhance skills shown to be deficient. Most students preferred to take electives rather than those classes, Powers said.
Students from local middle and high schools were mixed on the effectiveness of the district's motivational tools.
"Students do keep up with the news and see what's being said about school funding and know what's on the line," said De Soto High School junior Melissa Roberts. "This week we heard that the Board was talking about eliminating fifth-grade band."
News that the USD 232 Board of Education was considering eliminating the activity largely because the class deprived students of classtime that could better prepare them for assessment tests was motivation enough for the musically inclined Roberts.
"I have two younger sisters, and know the tests may not affect me when I'm gone, but I know it will affect them," she said. "Motivating students to do well is not a problem. The system and the funding issue is the problem."
De Soto High School freshman Morgan Frehe said she wanted to do well in the tests but not for the school's sake.
"The tests are difficult, but they do a good job of judging what kind of student you are," she said. "What motivates me is preparing for college. I'm not a great test taker, but I know I need to be doing well on these in order to prepare for college tests."
Frehe took the Kansas reading assessment last year and the math assessment the year before. She said the funding issues associated with the tests have never been fully explained to her and fellow students.
She said she thought it would be best for students to be briefed on the implications of the tests once they were in high school. Some students understand their grades will not be affected.
For De Soto High freshman Sam Wilcox, peer pressure provides the motivation.
"I don't think students get too worried about the tests," he said. "What gets you worried are your friends talking about how they did on the tests. It forces you to do well so you feel comfortable sharing your scores."
Wilcox has been told the tests were a reflection of how school districts were doing but never in the context of financial consequences. According to Wilcox and his sister Ali, a seventh-grader at Lexington Trails Middle School, most of the students were too young to concern themselves with the economics behind the tests.
"It would make preparing pretty nerve-wracking and we'd end up not doing as well," the younger Wilcox said. "Maybe the high schoolers can take the information better.
"What motivates me is my teachers, knowing they judge students by these tests. They'll know how smart you are by these tests."
Ali's previous standardized testing experience consisted of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, administered to third-graders.
She was hopeful that the outcome of this week's tests did not weigh too heavily on the minds of her teachers. As seventh-graders, Wilcox said she and her peers had heard of the district's "good record in testing."
What remains unclear is what is to gain for the school district in exchange for a slate of good test scores.
"If they said to us, 'If we do well here we get this and keep this,' that would help," Lexington Trails Middle School eighth-grader Michaela Frehe said. "Just identify what the exact benefits are to the district, or some people won't take it seriously."
Technology might end the disconnect between the tests and students' grades.
The tests were taken with paper and pencil, Powers said. The state and district follow elaborate procedures while handling the tests to keep the process secure, he said.
"It's pretty much like a Brinks' delivery except for the armored van," he said.
The state planned to switch to computerized testing, Powers said. That would not only greatly ease security concerns but should make test results available before May, he said.
Earlier, more secure test results would make the assessments better-suited for grading purposes, Powers said. That, and the pressure No Child Left Behind puts on the state, could lead to a change is the state's stance on using the assessments to grade students.
"When I was a high school coach, all the players on my team were there because they were motivated to be there," he said. "Not all the students taking the assessments feel that way.
"While we don't report how a particular student does, everyone looks at the school's results. The high school principals are very much like a basketball coach in that they are judged by how their students perform. We as a district are in the same position."
The state frowns on linking state assessment scores to academic standing because of test-security concerns, Powers said.
At the district's two high schools, that meant pre-examination pep rallies at which students were informed of the tests' importance to the district and encouraged to do their best, Powers said.
The district attempted to have parents reinforce the message of the tests' importance, said Mill Valley Assistant Principal Steve Ludwig. Students were also aware they could benefit from the tests, he said.
"The kids are getting accustomed to the process," Ludwig said. "I think what they do understand is that it's an effective tool for them to measure where they are with their performance at school."
Although the district was still looking for a creative carrot to motivate students, it did have one stick that got some students attention, Powers said. Poor performance earned a student a place in a class designed to enhance skills shown to be deficient. Most students preferred to take electives rather than those classes, Powers said.
Students from local middle and high schools were mixed on the effectiveness of the district's motivational tools.
"Students do keep up with the news and see what's being said about school funding and know what's on the line," said De Soto High School junior Melissa Roberts. "This week we heard that the Board was talking about eliminating fifth-grade band."
News that the USD 232 Board of Education was considering eliminating the activity largely because the class deprived students of classtime that could better prepare them for assessment tests was motivation enough for the musically inclined Roberts.
"I have two younger sisters, and know the tests may not affect me when I'm gone, but I know it will affect them," she said. "Motivating students to do well is not a problem. The system and the funding issue is the problem."
De Soto High School freshman Morgan Frehe said she wanted to do well in the tests but not for the school's sake.
"The tests are difficult, but they do a good job of judging what kind of student you are," she said. "What motivates me is preparing for college. I'm not a great test taker, but I know I need to be doing well on these in order to prepare for college tests."
Frehe took the Kansas reading assessment last year and the math assessment the year before. She said the funding issues associated with the tests have never been fully explained to her and fellow students.
She said she thought it would be best for students to be briefed on the implications of the tests once they were in high school. Some students understand their grades will not be affected.
For De Soto High freshman Sam Wilcox, peer pressure provides the motivation.
"I don't think students get too worried about the tests," he said. "What gets you worried are your friends talking about how they did on the tests. It forces you to do well so you feel comfortable sharing your scores."
Wilcox has been told the tests were a reflection of how school districts were doing but never in the context of financial consequences. According to Wilcox and his sister Ali, a seventh-grader at Lexington Trails Middle School, most of the students were too young to concern themselves with the economics behind the tests.
"It would make preparing pretty nerve-wracking and we'd end up not doing as well," the younger Wilcox said. "Maybe the high schoolers can take the information better.
"What motivates me is my teachers, knowing they judge students by these tests. They'll know how smart you are by these tests."
Ali's previous standardized testing experience consisted of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, administered to third-graders.
She was hopeful that the outcome of this week's tests did not weigh too heavily on the minds of her teachers. As seventh-graders, Wilcox said she and her peers had heard of the district's "good record in testing."
What remains unclear is what is to gain for the school district in exchange for a slate of good test scores.
"If they said to us, 'If we do well here we get this and keep this,' that would help," Lexington Trails Middle School eighth-grader Michaela Frehe said. "Just identify what the exact benefits are to the district, or some people won't take it seriously."
Technology might end the disconnect between the tests and students' grades.
The tests were taken with paper and pencil, Powers said. The state and district follow elaborate procedures while handling the tests to keep the process secure, he said.
"It's pretty much like a Brinks' delivery except for the armored van," he said.
The state planned to switch to computerized testing, Powers said. That would not only greatly ease security concerns but should make test results available before May, he said.
Earlier, more secure test results would make the assessments better-suited for grading purposes, Powers said. That, and the pressure No Child Left Behind puts on the state, could lead to a change is the state's stance on using the assessments to grade students.

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