Multiple forms of testing used in county schools
By Kathryn Schiliro
Back when Georgia's fiscal year budget was still in the works, the state legislature was prepared to put the axe to the grades 1 and 2 CRCTs (Criterion Referenced Competency Tests) and the writing assessment for grades three and five.
The cost to the state – both of those tests are entirely state-funded – is more than $2.25 million, about $1.1 million for each of the tests. To put this in perspective, Georgia's total budget for FY2011 is more than $38.5 billion, and the state funds about $17.9 billion of that total; for this fiscal year, the state will spend more than $13.8 million of a total $27 million – the rest is kicked in by the feds – on testing.
However, Governor Sonny Perdue took his pen to those budgetary changes proposed by the legislature, and revived those tests for the 2010-2011 school year.
His reasoning for his line-item veto of cuts to the CRCTs? "CRCTs in grades ine and two ensure that students in those grades are meeting state standards and give parents confidence that their children are making adequate progress. CRCTs in grades one and two also help prepare students for the CRCT in grade three, the passage of which is required to move on to the fourth grade. It is unwise to eliminate the CRCT in grades one and two," according to a June 8 press release from the Office of the Governor.
And his line-item veto of cuts to the writing assessments? "Writing is one of the most fundamental skills a student must master in order to be prepared for later grades and ultimately to succeed in life. Failing to administer writing assessments in grades three and five will have a detrimental effect on students and could possibly lead to an inadequate amount of instruction in this fundamental skill," according to the same press release.
Indeed, standardized assessments (the CRCT, state writing tests, even the Georgia High School Graduation Test) do have their place.
State standards are prescribed, and there must be a unit of measure for the results. Further, those results are uniform and allow teachers of all grade and subject levels to read the information.
"One of the pros is that it does give us information that's uniform for students, and it does provide us a piece of information for students that we can use, and that piece of information...allows us to look at kids across multiple grade levels," Bennett said.
However, it's the interpretation and assessment of the results that gets tricky.
Bennett cautions against the belief that standardized tests, because they are scientifically developed, are 100-percent accurate when it comes to evaluating students' learning and performance. The information gleaned from standardized tests shouldn't be used as the sole measure of a student's, class' or school's performance; after all, what's not to say that student just does really well (or poorly) at testing, or that a teacher or school has better prepared their students to take a standardized test than another teacher or school.
"Even test developers will tell you that standardized assessments are not used how they were intended [to be used]," Bennett said, citing the example that test developers don't condone using average SAT scores to compare colleges.
Moreover, it's easy to believe that standardized assessments are more objective – all students must take the same test with the same questions – than teacher's individual classroom assessments, and are therefore superior in determining where a student stands in terms of academic performance. But students can always guess on standardized, multiple-choice assessments (which makes them a bit less objective) and teachers give many tests and assessments over the 180-day course of instruction.
"The teacher has a much more comprehensive picture – 180 days versus one day taking the Math CRCT, for example," Bennett said.
In Morgan County, teachers have been working on local – or "benchmark" – assessments by grade level, with the goal that, at the primary, elementary and middle schools, students in the same grade level and / or subject area will be taking the same test at the same time.
For example: "There may be five second grade teachers, in Math, looking at students' understanding of multiplication facts," Bennett said. "Traditionally teachers design their own assessments of that. Now they've developed assessments that are common across the subject area and grade level."
These local assessments – still in the works but in place at all three schools; "we're fine tuning those [questions] to be sure they're giving us the information we need," Bennett said – are being completed around every nine weeks, and are in addition to individual teachers doing their own assessments, formal test format or not, in an effort to guide their class and maintain a feel for where their class and individual students are when it comes to meeting state standards.
"A teacher-constructed assessment, when done well and implemented well, is better overall," Bennett said.
At Morgan County Elementary School, for example, teachers are developing rubics for teaching, student performance and evaluation. These involve everything from lesson plans to grade and subject level (local, benchmark) assessments to self-assessments, which let students show themselves whether they've mastered a concept.
"We have definitely found kids have to be involved," elementary school teacher Lisa Harris said. "Our big focus is trying to make kids aware of where they're at and what we need to do as a team to get them to the finish line."
In an effort to get parents involved, they receive "Keys to Understanding" before each unit their child begins – this outlines the Georgia Performance Standards and what, specifically, their child should be learning – as well as letters that display the standards and let the parents know where their child is "proficient" and where they may need some help.
"Our unit assessments are more rigorous than the CRCT," Harris said.
So, prepare for the upcoming school year. Students are being evaluated through standardized tests; local, benchmark assessments; and the evaluations, whether through a formal test or not, of individual teachers.
"Multiple data points means a more comprehensive picture," Bennett said.