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Making sense of test results

Understanding the complex world educators live in regarding federal and state laws and the connections to state testing is difficult to do for those of us who live with it every day. There are important differences, though, between what assessment information the state of Colorado uses and what information the federal government uses. Then there are the pieces of evidence that teachers use every day.The state is always the first to release the testing data from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). The state releases the percentage of students at each grade level who are scoring in the Proficient and Advanced ranges. Third-grade reading scores are released in early May and all of the other scores for reading, math and science are released in August of each year for grades three through 10. In case you are wondering as a parent or community member, scoring as Proficient does not mean that a student is performing on grade level. The two terms have no statistical connection. Proficient is above grade level, though no one can really say how far, and it varies from grade level to grade level. Partially Proficient may be closer to equating to grade level, but again solid statistics are hard to come by.The federal government, through the No Child Left Behind legislation, uses CSAP differently. To determine if schools and districts meet achievement targets or make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) the federal government uses the percentage of students who score Partially Proficient and above. This difference in scores that are used accounts for differences in what the district reports for state reports and federal reports.When the state began CSAP testing in 1997, the Department of Education described CSAP as only a “snapshot of student learning” and cautioned that a test given only once each year should not be considered as the only evidence of successful educational experiences. That seems hard to remember when the test scores roll out and major newspapers in the state herald the latest round of assessment scores as the one true measure of how well schools are doing. To make it even more difficult to really know what the test scores can tell you, both state and federal agencies have chosen not to measure according to how individual schools and students do from year to year, but to compare using entirely new groups of students each year at each grade level. When we receive scores that are higher or lower than last year’s scores, we are looking at results from an entirely different group of students.If educators were able to choose, we would provide information to the public that we use in our schools. Such as, did each student as a third-grader do better as a fourth-grader? How does that student look when he or she enters middle school or high school? Are students learning more and getting better every year? How do these students perform on other measures of their ability to read, write, do math or understand science? Who is in a better place to know what students can do: the teacher who works with them throughout the year or the test score that is the result of days and days of testing in March? Teachers welcome your questions and would be happy to show you how your child is learning, measured by a variety of projects, assignments and tests during the school year. The information teachers share represents a much more complete picture of students and their learning that a test score ever will.Judy Haptonstall will take over as superintendent of the Roaring Fork School District next month.


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