Schools gear up for annual set of standardized tests

Results from the 2009 Colorado Student Assessment Program testing session released in July will, for the first time, be instantly available to teachers in an electronic format that shows how much the test focused on which content standards and how schools did in those areas compared to the district and state.

Preparing for the test is a year-round endeavor, said Sean Taylor, School District 51’s director of assessment and former principal at Nisley Elementary. Schools review data and start discussing how to improve performances in weak areas from the beginning of school, Taylor said, and alternative CSAP testing for severely disabled students must be organized 90 days in advance of the beginning of testing.

It’s hoped that managing the data will be easier with the new electronic aggregator developed in the last month by Taylor’s staff. The data, provided by the Colorado Department of Education, show every Colorado content standard in each subject and grade level and how important that material was on the CSAP. For each standard, the data show how many questions were asked on the test regarding the material, the type of question asked and the difficulty of the questions.

The district had access to this information in past years, but it was not user-friendly, Taylor said.

When the district receives the 2009 test results in July, Taylor said, his staff instantly will upload the district’s results by school matched to each content area to compare to state results.

“It’s really a tool for 2009,” he said. “It will open some good conversations.”

As test dates near, proctors of the test undergo training starting in January, Taylor said, parents are sent information on the test, and in some schools, students are coached on some new types of questions they will encounter.

Third-graders, for example, are unaccustomed to sitting for a 60-minute test session and may be unfamiliar with the reading passages and responding types of questions they will see, Taylor said.

“We have to give it quite a bit of forethought,” Taylor said.

Test proctors have a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, Taylor said, and tests are locked up at a central location in each school at the end of each day. Any violation of the security measures could invalidate a student’s score on a section, forcing the district and the student to take a zero on that section.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Schultz said Tuesday at the board of education meeting that even with the new system, all content standards still will be taught, but the data will show where priorities should be.

Taylor said when he was principal at Nisley, his staff noticed an across-the-board weakness in geometry one year. They discovered the subject was not taught as strongly in test years as it was in others, so they realigned the math curriculum.

“Those were some great discussions,” Taylor said. “We wouldn’t have had that without the data.”

Teachers also use individual student CSAP results to implement tailored learning plans, Taylor said, but as the year wears on and students take more assessment tests, CSAP becomes less important.

Taylor said the data delivery does not encourage teaching to the test because the content standards that are weighted more on the test change each year.

“You would be a fool to just pull out the top questions,” he said. “Besides, the test reflects what Colorado students are supposed to have learned. If they do well on the test, it means we’ve taught them what Colorado has deemed important.”


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