Spring means testing at Morgan County schools
By Kathryn Purcell
Pencils, Scantrons, transparent silence and the occasional "Christmas treeing."
From now until the end of the school year, Morgan County students of varying grades, in a multitude of classes, will be participating in standardized tests, and classrooms from the elementary school to the high school will be hushed to the point of hearing a pin drop.
Standardized testing in the school system began with the third grade writing test and the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT), both of which ran through last Friday; the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), from Tuesday, April 8 through Thursday, April 17 with a re-test from Tuesday, June 17 to Friday, June 20; Advanced Placement (AP) testing from Monday, May 5 to Friday, May 16; International Baccalaureate (IB) testing from Monday, May 5 to Wednesday, May 21; and End of Course Testing (EOCT) from Monday, May 19 to Friday, May 23.
The schedule for the AP and IB tests break down even further, depending on the various classes. Monday, May 5 kicks off the tests with IB English Paper 1 and AP U.S. Government in the morning and IB Psychology Paper 1 in the afternoon; Tuesday, May 6, IB Psychology Paper 2 in the morning and IB History Paper 1 and 2 and AP Statistics in the afternoon; Wednesday, May 7, AP Calculus and IB History Paper 3 in the morning and Math SL Paper 1 and Math Studies Paper 1 in the afternoon; Thursday, May 8, AP English Literature, Math SL Paper 2 and Math Studies Paper 2 in the morning; Friday, May 9, AP U.S. History and AP Art Portfolios in the morning and AP European History in the afternoon; Monday, May 12, IB English Paper 2, AP Biology and AP Music Theory in the morning; Tuesday, May 13, IB Spanish Paper 1 and 2 in the morning; Wednesday, May 14, AP English Language in the morning and IB Environmental Systems Paper 1 and 2 in the afternoon; Thursday, May 15, IB Environmental Systems Paper 3 in the morning; Friday, May 16, AP Human Geography and IB French Paper 1 and 2 in the morning; Tuesday, May 20, IB Music in the morning and IB Physics Paper 1 and 2 in the afternoon; and Wednesday, May 21, IB Physics Paper 3 in the morning.
While the tests differ, of course, the encompassing goal of all standardized testing seems to be examining students' mastery of a given course of study.
"Tests like the EOCT, the CRCT and the Georgia High School Graduation Test test the curriculum in accordance with the Georgia Performance Standards to see how well the students have learned [the material]," Assistant Superintendent Ralph Bennett said.
The AP and IB tests examine how well students have learned other standards, standards set by the College Board, for the AP tests, and the IB program, for the IB tests, according to Bennett.
The third grade writing test is similar to the fifth, eighth and 11th grade writing tests in that it tests students in the structure of their writing, their ability to write in a certain genre (expository, descriptive or narrative writing, for example) and the organization of their writing, but differs in that it is teacher-scored and not sent outside the system to be evaluated, Bennett said.
No matter the exam, though, it becomes easy for any student to become overwhelmed with performing well on a standardized test. Preparation goes a long way in aiding students with both their test-taking abilities and the test material itself.
According to Bennett, there are three time frames when it comes to test preparation -- long-term preparation, short-term preparation and during the test -- and, with careful attention to these time frames and what they should be doing to get ready for a test, students can be confident going into an exam.
•Georgia Online Assessment System (OAS)
The Georgia Department of Education has developed a Web site, organized by grade level, for students who want to take practice tests online. Having practice tests online also gives parents or guardians an in to their student's learning.
"It gives parents a way to check that their kids are retaining the things they're learning," Bennett said.
The Web address for the Georgia OAS is www.georgiaoas.org and, while some students are given a 'Logon ID' and 'Password' at school, it is always an option to use the default -- simply the student's grade level. For example, if the student is in eighth grade, the 'Logon ID' is 'grade8' and the 'Password' is 'grade8.'
For those households who may not have access to the Internet, teachers can obtain, if they don't have them in their classrooms already, hard copies of test prep materials. All it takes is contacting the teacher and letting him/her know of your student's individual needs.
Going straight to the source and meeting with a student's teacher, or teachers, is one of the best ways to determine what subject area a student needs help with, or is doing well in.
"Ask specific questions, like 'What standards (Georgia Performance Standards) is my kid struggling with?' or 'What can I do to help?'" Bennett said.
Being available to help with or check a student's homework is another easy way to see if a student is retaining what they have learned as, chances are, if they didn't understand a subject in class, they won't be able to complete an assignment on that same subject without help.
"Parents can check if their child is understanding their homework," Bennett said. "If they say they have no homework...ask them what the most important thing was that they learned in class today."
•Extended learning opportunities
Aside from Intersession, one option to aid students in their mastery of subject areas, Morgan County schools offer re-mediation and after-school tutoring, ongoing and long-term options for getting students extra help. The Madison-Morgan County Boys & Girls Club also has tutoring and test prep programs available for its members.
Further, the majority of these programs are free and many provide their own transportation.
•Continued use of the Georgia OAS
Chlidren ages five to 12 years need nine to 11 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers under the age of 18 years need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep per night, according to The National Sleep Foundation's Web site, www.sleepfoundation.org. As taking standardized tests requires energy, focus and stamina, it becomes apparent why it's so important for students to feel rested enough to simply think clearly and concisely.
"Kids need to be sure they're getting the appropriate rest, and not just the day before the test, but weeks before the test," Bennett said.
"The day of the test, be sure to eat breakfast," Bennett said. "Research is clear that a high-protein breakfast is better for kids."
Food high in protein makes energy last throughout the test, unlike the short-lived jolt of energy something like a caffeinated beverage would give a student in the morning.
Remember the days of your taking standardized tests? That said, students generally don't need to be reminded of the importance of the test; they are intuitive and typically get understand that on their own.
"Remind kids that they do not need to stress about passing the test," Bennett said. "Stress to them to do their best because, if they do their best, the rest will work itself out."
During the Test:
•Listen to the instructions
•Answer all the questions
"Even if you guess, because you're not penalized for guessing," Bennett said.
•Use time efficiently
"Come back to the hard questions," Bennett said. "Go back and check your answers when you're done...and answer the hard questions."
With reading tests, Bennett suggests reading the questions before reading the passage.
"That way, you're reading with a purpose," Bennett said.
In the end, at least to some degree, standardized tests are viewed as a very narrow measure of whether the student has mastered the curriculum. Some of the gamble here is how good a test-taker the student is.
"Keep the focus in mind," Bennett said. "The focus is on kids learning, not grades or test scores."
Teachers are available by e-mail or by contacting the student's school. To reach Morgan County Primary School, call 706.342.3475; Morgan County Elementary School, 706.342.5039; Morgan County Middle School, 706.342.0556; and Morgan County High School, 706.342.2336. All of the Morgan County schools' Web sites are available through the Morgan County Board of Education Web site, www.morgan.k12.ga.us.