04/08/13 — Schools ready for new testing

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Schools ready for new testing

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 8, 2013 1:46 PM

With less than nine weeks of school remaining, Wayne County Public Schools is gearing up for year-end tests.

Typically, tests reflect curriculum areas, which are updated on a staggered schedule on alternate years, allowing teachers and administrators to incorporate the changes.

Not so this year.

"I'm in my 38th year (in education) and I have seen lots of changes, but I have never seen everything change all at once," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services.

In years past, the accountability program used test data to answer the question, "Is this school doing a good job?" he said. But this year, that question is, "Is this school doing a good job preparing students for post-secondary employment/education?"

Standardized testing is not new, dating back to 1978, when the CAT, or California Achievement Test was introduced. The following year, the N.C. competency tests were added, followed by the N.C. writing tests in 1983. End-of-course tests in Algebra I came along in 1986.

In recent years, the two accountability models used were the state ABCs program and the federally mandated No Child Left Behind, the latter introduced in 2002 and changing the emphasis from growth to performance. The federal component of AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, was especially challenging, as it contained the requirement that all subgroups of students meet the same standards (including special needs and non-English-proficient students) and increased requirements incrementally until all students were at 100 percent by 2013-14.

"Under No Child Left Behind, we had to be at 100 percent proficient by next year," McFadden said. "It wasn't going to happen anywhere in the U.S.

"North Carolina along with many other states requested some modification. Now, basically what we have done is between now and 2016-17, we have to get halfway between where the subgroup is and at 100 percent. It's pretty confusing stuff but a lot more reasonable."

Implemented this year is the READY Accountability Model, McFadden said, which features a teacher and principal evaluation system and new school performance grading system.

AYP is being replaced by AMO, Annual Measurable Objectives, and the state's ABC Accountability Model is being retired after 16 years.

The new AMO model, McFadden said, recognizes that subgroups are different and requires greater increases for subgroups with lower percentages of proficient students.

All new tests are being rolled out for 2012-13. The end-of-grade and end-of-course tests are being replaced by a new generation of multiple-choice and performance tests in line with the Common Core State Standards and Essential Standards, McFadden said.

"They will still use EOG and EOC but now are called READY EOG and READY EOC," he said. "It's not an acronym, but it is all capitals."

Testing isn't necessarily going to change drastically at the elementary and middle school level, he noted, as students in third through eighth grades will still be tested in reading and math, and students in fifth and eighth grades will be tested in science. There will be three measurements -- performance, growth and progress.

The model really changes, he said, at the high school level. Juniors will now be taking the ACT test and additional performance indicators include graduation rates, WorkKeys and the graduation project. The graduation project won't actually be measured, McFadden pointed out, but will be taken into account as to whether the students complete it.

With the change-up, the turnaround time for results this year will also be affected.

"The state has to take time analyzing, etc. So it will be October before we get this year's test data back," he said.

From here on out, educators will appear to be consumed with testing. Dates for spring testing are still being determined, some starting as early as next week.

"Basically, when we get back from Easter break, elementary schools will have three weeks where they're taking tests," McFadden said. "After that, April 29, high schools will have three weeks. They're online tests so sometime between those three weeks, it's spread out so it's not a great burden on any individual school."

The testing calendar actually continues into June, in some cases wrapping up only a day or two before schools dismiss for the summer.

McFadden also noted that in the future, testing will all be done online, which will expedite the turnaround time for results.

Districts are also moving toward a more national, or universal, type of curriculum, which McFadden said will be beneficial in communities like Wayne County where military or other families relocate and change schools.

"It's frustrating. It's a lot of changes all at once," he said. "I see it in the teachers' faces. There's just so much change all at once.

"I think the state's done a good job with it. They're not looking at performance, they're looking at growth. In that, I think it's as fair as it can be. But there's a lot riding on it for the teachers, the principals and the students."