Words like "state mandated tests," don't likely conjure up fun thoughts of lollipops and hopscotch. Never the less, thousands of peninsula students will face the music and head to school next week not to learn, but to prove what they've learned to the state of Alaska.
In recent history, reading, writing and math have become key subjects in national education. Students from grades three to 12 will take exams next week. Tenth- through 12th-graders are due to take the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination while third -through ninth-graders take the Standards Based Test. The national debate continues while some argue that standards tests are needed to track learning and others argue students are being over tested.
Not passing all three parts of the HSGQE means not getting a diploma.
School district Director of Secondary Education Glenn Haupt said this is the fourth year of the state-implemented exam. The results of the tests have shown that kids often need to pass the three areas of testing in shifts.
"Basically we find that roughly two thirds or 70 percent of tenth graders pass it the first time they take it. Generally, two-thirds pass all three areas of testing. The next year, half of the third that's left passes. For a lot of kids, the third time's a charm. There are a lot of kids whose test scores don't reflect what they've learned. Practice tests and tutorials are given at some schools, which help," Haupt said.
Disregarding rare or unusual circumstances, every high school student is required to pass all three areas of the exam, and students have three years to do it.
Once the test is initially taken in the sophomore year, juniors and seniors have two opportunities per year to make up any or all of the exam until their scores meet proficiency.
"It's a high-stakes assessment and sometimes students don't perform well on tests. This gives them the opportunity to prove themselves," Haupt said.
Kenai Central High School counselor Mark Manuel, said with the recent advent of the test, more students are becoming accustomed to taking the test.
"Students take it extremely seriously, especially since it's directly linked to graduation," Manuel said. "The administration, teachers and counselors preach the gospel of the importance of the test."
Second semester sophomores will be tested for the first time. It is offered twice a year every year until their senior year where students can retake sections they failed prior.
Haupt said the amount of testing for high school students is a fair balance of testing and learning. But KCHS counselor Jon Lillevik has another take on testing.
Lillevik said the amount of testing time is not proportional to the amount of instruction time.
"You can't fatten the cow by weighing it," Lillevik said. "With state and district testing, (students) have a pretty heavy schedule."
Still, whether you like it or not, passing the test is required to graduate for high school.
KCHS principal Dennis Dunn said due to the high stakes and high security of the test, there is no part taken lightly.
"The importance of this cannot be overstated," Dunn said. "For a portion of the students this is a very stressful time. You hate to see any kid impacted by the system."
Dunn said standardized testing provides the school with feedback on teacher performance.
"It creates a heightened awareness for students to focus on the material they've learned and retained. Teachers focus more on teaching to the state standard," he said.
Haupt said the tests help teachers differentiate their style of teaching to the various learning styles of the students.
"This helps teachers modify their instruction."
The state provides a practice test, and KCHS provides summer school directly geared toward the HSGQE for students identified by the state as "at risk."
Haupt said it's not good practice to teach to the test either,
"Rather, teachers should teach to standards," he said.
According to a state Department of Education news release, the assessments will include a balance of constructed response questions where students write out answers and multiple choice questions. All test questions will be tied directly to the Alaska content and performance standards.
Next week is also the first full run of the Standards Based Assessment for middle school kids. The test is developed initially by the state of Alaska and contracted with CTBS McGraw Hill.
For more information on standardized tests go to www.kpbsd. k12.ak.us.
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