05/26/05 — End of Grade tests cause stress for students, parents, schools

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End of Grade tests cause stress for students, parents, schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 26, 2005 1:45 PM

This is the last week of school for many students in public schools across Wayne County. It also marks the culmination of months of hard work that led up to "end-of-grade" and "end-of-course" tests.

Beverly Woodley, principal of Carver Heights Elementary School, says teachers and staff begin each school year with the end in mind.

"Those are your plans," she said. "To put your objectives into place when you start from day one."

Depending on funding, schools use a variety of methods to make sure students are ready for the tests that serve as a marker of the teachers' and the school's progress. From providing tutors and offering practice questions and staff development to enhance instructional methods, teachers in grades three through eight work hard to develop effective approaches for the math and reading tests, Mrs. Woodley said.

"The last two weeks, we did what we call a 'Power Hour,'" she said. Certified teachers are assigned to classrooms, devoting an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon toward math and reading.

Lynette Peten, curriculum facilitator at Carver Heights, said the school also keeps in constant contact with parents, providing information on readying children for the year-end tests.

"We send notes home, monthly newsletters home with students," she said. "We offer tips throughout the year on how to get ready for the EOG. We also have workshops for parents on how to prepare children for the test."

The activities are also used as a way for parents to work with their children. The important thing, Mrs. Peten said, is to apply the information throughout the year versus at "crunch time."

Amanda Brewington, whose daughter, Danielle, is a fourth-grader at Northwest Elementary School, said it was helpful to receive updates during the year to better prepare for the test.

At the same time, she said her own school experience did not necessarily give her the clues she need to decide how best to help her daughter prepare for the test.

"It's not a studying thing," she said. "Right now I think they're not teaching the basics; they're teaching the test."

She says she tried to help her daughter with homework and supplemental activities, then encouraged Danielle to "go ahead, do your best."

In her case, she said her child didn't seem to be pressured by the test.

"She came home and said, 'Aww, it was easy,'" Mrs. Brewington said. "She really didn't get excited about it. It was like any other test."

To school officials, though, the end of course tests are much more than just another measuring stick to gauge student performance.

"It's the only test that counts in everything," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability for Wayne County Public Schools.

End-of-grade test scores from elementary and middle schools are used in the ABCs, the state's school accountability model, as well as the new legislation, No Child Left Behind. The six hours of testing, stretched over three days, were taken across the county last week.

Results had to be calculated immediately, he said, in case there was a need for retakes, given this week.

"In grades three, five, and eight, if they don't score a 3 or 4, meaning they are at or above grade level, they have to retake the test," he said. The second test is given in a different form, he said, covering the same material.

Based on the state curriculum, McFadden said the tests do a good job of measuring progress being made in the schools.

"They really are very good tests," he says, adding that it is getting more and more complicated due to the introduction of No Child Left Behind.

The same tests are given to the same students, he said but the way the data is analyzed is different. The tests originally served as a school accountability model. No Child Left Behind calls for accountability of every student. With more variables, there is not as much leeway, McFadden said.

At the high school level, in addition to the traditional final exams, state-administered end-of-course tests are given in Algebra I and II, geometry, English I, physical science, biology, chemistry and physics. End-of-course tests in U.S. history and civics, being restandardized because of curriculum changes, will return next year.

The exams, which count for 25 percent of the final grade for the course, were taken by students this week. For seniors counting on graduating this weekend, that could translate to some stress.

"It's tight," McFadden said. "We will scan the tests locally Wednesday night and Thursday, to have the grades in time for graduations."

Jamel Slater, a senior at Charles B. Aycock High School, said he had four regular exams this week.

"It's a little more pressure, especially for a senior," he said. "You don't want to mess up."

He said he chose to "just study. If there's anything you have trouble on, ask the teacher."

McFadden said results from the end-of-grade tests are expected to be released in mid-July.