Tests get mixed grades

Analysis is full of frustrations

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2000

Statewide education reform is making this a time of turmoil for the educators overseeing student test scores.

Dec. 4, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators outlined the mixed situation to the school board after it released its annual assessment report.

"We are getting some solid information on student achievement," Superintendent Donna Peterson said Wednesday.

Tests begun in the past two years are better aligned with the state and district curriculum standards than one-size-fits-all national tests. The educators are enthused about the potential to use scores to directly help teachers, she said.

However, the analysis is full of frustrations, too.

The high school exit exam, which may have its implementation date changed, and a pending change in state-mandated achievement tests have left the district in limbo for planning next year's testing. And lack of continuity, small sample sizes and sporadic reporting from the testing companies make it difficult for the district to make sense of the numbers it already has.

For example, the state has required all districts to administer the California Achievement Test, called the CAT/5, to grades four and seven. The test was first used in the spring of 1996. Before that, the state used the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

The state's contract with the CAT/5 expires after this school year, and indications are that it will not renew the contract. That means districts cannot track long-term trends in their scores, Peterson said.

In 1998, the district started using achievement level tests to compare student performance to specific goals. However, now the state-mandated Alaska Bench-mark Examination, which is linked to the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam and was first given in March, is covering similar ground.

Administrators hope they can minimize the testing time for students but get the maximum amount of useful information. Continuity is a priority.

"We hoped the level tests would do that for us," Peterson said.

"We are getting a lot of slices of information, but we are not sure we are getting the whole pie."

This year, the district's level tests produced new information the district has never had before -- tracking individual students from grade to grade to see how much they learned in a year. The information eliminates confusion caused by transfer students and lets schools zero in on student-by-student and class-by-class progress.

"That is a pretty powerful tool," Mark Leal, the district's assessment director, told the school board.

With advancing computer capacity, the district hopes to use the new type of information more in future years.

"These results are becoming more and more important," he said.

Peterson told the board the test results can help schools improve.

"We don't want to lose any of this momentum," she said.

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