01/13/09 — Test time: End-of-course exams here

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Test time: End-of-course exams here

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 13, 2009 1:46 PM

High school students across the county this week are taking end-of-course tests for the fall semester. And as always, there's a lot riding on the outcome, officials say.

In recent years, the fall exams have been administered before the Christmas break. But that changed when lawmakers revamped the schools calendar.

"When the state legislators changed the calendar and forced us to start no earlier than Aug. 25, there's no way to get 90 school days in before Dec. 25," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services.

With 180 days to the school year -- 90 in the fall, 90 in the spring -- holding exams after the holidays is hard on students and staff.

"The last day of the fall semester is Jan. 16," McFadden said. "We would love to be able to do (exams) by the end of December because it gives us a Christmas break. Now we have got just a few days to prepare."

Not to mention lost momentum with the more-than-two-week break, as well as the challenge for the growing number of students also juggling college classes at Wayne Community, which ends its fall courses in December.

"But we have made it the best we can," McFadden notes.

Exams will be given the bulk of this week -- Monday for first period classes, Tuesday for second, Wednesday for third and Thursday for fourth period -- with Friday assigned as make-up day and also re-tests.

The challenge comes in that there are basically 10 end-of-course tests, five of those being "exit standard tests," McFadden said, which means students must pass them in order to be eligible for a high school diploma.

Because they are so critical, turnaround time for scoring has to be quick.

"We score them the day they take them," he said. "We have got all of our computers and scanners cleaned up and ready to go, so when they bring them to us we scan them -- they're multiple choice -- and get them back basically the same day the students take the test. That lets the students know if they need to retake the test."

It's quite an operation, he says, particularly since there are between 5,000 and 6,000 high school students in the district, many of them taking multiple end-of-course tests.

"But they're geared up, ready to go," he said. "The teachers do a beautiful job -- they know what to do and it runs very smoothly, and hopefully students have studied."

Educators do their part, McFadden said, but there are still looming mandates and requirements that impose challenges. From the state's ABCs to the federal No Child Left Behind, there is no getting away from the test scores and what they mean -- for students, teachers, schools and the district as a whole.

After tests are scored locally, they are uploaded directly into computers at the state Department of Public Instruction, then used to determine a myriad of things.

"It's very important because when you look at what's being measured here, it counts for the ABCs for the school, directly tied to the teachers' bonuses, No Child Left Behind AYP measures, and of course they all count for 25 percent of the student's course grade," McFadden said. "That's a big chunk of the child's grade and of course, five of the 10 (exams) are exit standard tests -- they have to pass to get a high school diploma.

"There's a lot riding on these tests, not only for the school but for the students as well."

One aspect that came into question recently was the issue of retests. The state Board of Education is still weighing the validly of allowing them.

"Of course (students are) going to have better scores after retests," McFadden said. "And if they don't make it the second time, there is some type of remediation that the school does."

In the past, the state simply did not allow retests, relying solely on the original test score for NCLB, AYPs and ABCs measures.

"Now the state board is considering allowing those retests be included in the school accountability," he said. "That would help. And course after remediation, if we could include those students in our pass rate, that would help."

For the time being, though, McFadden recommends the old stand-by suggestions to students taking exams this week -- "a good night's sleep, a good breakfast and of course, study, study, study."