Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

USD 232 officials confident as state assessments start

March 9, 2006

De Soto USD 232 schools began taking their Kansas assessment tests last week, but school administrators won't know how De Soto students measure up to other schools until state officials have looked at their tests.

This year, schools across the state will begin testing all third- through eighth-grade students in reading and math. Two high school levels will also be tested. Previously, only a few selected grades were tested.

Kim Barney, coordinator of learning services for De Soto schools, said the district was confident in the students' progress.

"It is high stakes, and there's a lot of pressure with testing," she said. "But I feel like we've done everything we can to prepare the students."

At each De Soto school, the learning coaches train teachers to make sure they're aware of any changes in the state indicators, or items that will be on the state assessment test. Most students in the district are taking the test by computer this year. Barney said the district is testing four times as many students as in previous years.

"I think there's some advantages to testing more students," she said. " If you give it to them each year, you can still measure progress and see if this particular student is improving."

Last year, every school in the De Soto district achieved a standard of excellence in at least one subject, which means a school scored better than average compared to other Kansas schools. Starside Elementary achieved the standard of excellence in math, Mize in math and reading, De Soto High School in social studies and reading and Lexington Trails Middle School in math, science, reading and social studies.

Because they're testing a different number of students, the state must finish grading all the tests before they can determine a baseline, or a typical average for Kansas test scores. The school's average compared to the baseline will help determine whether they achieve the standard of excellence, achieve average scores, or don't make the all-important adequate yearly progress goal required by federal No Child Left Behind legislation. All Kansas schools are taking the tests this spring between March 1 and April 21.

Another concern is the large number of English learners who will have to take the test. In previous years, the students were able to take the test through audio help.

Betsy Degen, testing coordinator with the Shawnee Mission district, said this was a major concern for the welfare of Spanish-speaking students. She said research proves it takes five to seven years to develop enough mastery in a language to be able to understand an assessment test.

"It's unreasonable to expect an immigrant, after one year of school, could possibly be at 11th-grade reading level," she said. "There isn't anything we could do in a year's time to get them to be successful on that test. Personally, I feel this is an unfair thing to do to students. They are setting them up for failure."

Last year, De Soto High School students with limited English proficiency tested at 30.3 percent unsatisfactory, 26.5 percent basic, 12.3 percent proficient, 9.9 percent advanced and 12.1 percent exemplary.

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