Which education reports matter?
Importance of school indicators is a 'huge question'
"I want to know how our kids are doing. I want us to be constantly adjusting our instruction forward." - Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox (File photo / April 28, 2012)
Back to basics
Board member Donna Brightman said for her, a big indicator of the school system’s success is whether students are reading at least at grade level.
She provided statistics from early in the school year that showed about 42 percent of students in first to fifth grades and about 25 percent of middle school students were reading below grade level.
Assistant Schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin said the elementary statistics stem from individual evaluations that teachers conduct with students. The teachers receive training in how to evaluate students’ reading levels, but there could be variations from teacher to teacher, she said.
Although teachers have used this information for years, this is the first year the school system has pulled the information together to get a picture of how it’s doing in terms of students reading at grade level, Hanlin said.
Reading levels for middle schoolers were determined by standardized assessments the students took electronically, said Beth Downin, supervisor for reading and English language arts for middle and high schools.
Students will retake these assessments at the end of their semester course or school year to see how individual students and entire grades have progressed, school system officials said.
“We can talk about any test you want to talk about. If a student can’t read, they cannot succeed in school. That’s No. 1 to me,” Brightman said. “We’ve got to get it right in the early years.”
If a child can’t read, the child cannot learn social studies, financial literacy, take advanced placement tests in high school for college credit or be successful in life, she said.
Checking the benchmarks
Board President Wayne Ridenour said he takes assessment test results into consideration, with an emphasis on student growth.
It’s one thing to say a child has progressed from third to fourth grade, but that doesn’t explain whether the child mastered the necessary math, language and writing skills, he said.
“I think that’s huge and I think that’s really going to be a big push when we get into the Common Core curriculum,” Ridenour said.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts to provide a consistent framework to prepare students for college and the work force.
The Common Core State Standards mission statement says they are designed to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.
Maryland and Pennsylvania are in a consortium of 24 states that is creating new math and English PARCC — The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — assessment tests to go with the coming Common Core curriculum, according to the consortium’s website at www.parcconline.org. All 24 states would provide the same assessment tests, according to an email from Chad Colby with Achieve, a management partner with the consortium.
The school system’s benchmark assessments try to assess how much students have learned during a course or grade level, Ridenour said.
In addition to looking at elementary school MSA results, Wilcox said he reviews benchmark assessment information to see how the school system is doing.
Those results are valuable to teachers because they gauge how well students learned recent material and how much they know of material about to be taught, he said. How much students know about an upcoming lesson helps the teacher decide how much time to spend on the subject, he said.
Benchmark assessments are provided in kindergarten through 12th grade, at least twice a course or grade, in varying subjects depending on whether the student is in elementary, middle or high school, school system officials said.
In high school, there are benchmark assessments for AP courses, English, and different social studies, math and science courses, school system officials said. Benchmark assessments for middle schoolers are in language arts, social studies, science, foreign language and math.
Elementary teachers conduct benchmark assessments in science, math and reading.
Harshman said she has concerns about the validity of benchmark assessments after discovering the key answer sheet provided for a benchmark test she gave her 12th grade English class contained errors and there was a similar problem with an elementary school benchmark test.