Sunday, April 29, 2012

Test Administration "Craziness"

Well, five school days remain before our students in grades 3, 4, & 5 take the 2012 New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK), which is our state's version of accountability testing. Although the test specifications claim the items on these assessments are intended to gauge a student's learning of our state's standards, we know the real intent. The state uses our students' scores to label our schools. Although NJ's waiver that granted relief from NCLB's all or nothing student achievement goal is a better way to assess schools, the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) will still use our students' performance on the 2012 NJ ASK to tell us how we are doing as educators. This is fine with us. As I mentioned in a previous post, we use these data to guide our practice to continually improve student learning in our school. What is a bit troubling for me is the "craziness" that surrounds the administration of this assessment.

The "craziness" I'm referring to includes the shrink wrapped test booklets and answer folders, the specific dates and times for unwrapping them, as well as the time constraints for principals to prepare for test administration. These detailed test security procedures lead me to wonder if anyone in the NJDOE understands the value of treating individuals as professionals, because many of their requirements, as well as those imposed by individual school districts, suggest they think all principals in the state are unethical and will do whatever it takes to improve student test scores. (I wrote about the importance of professionalism in education here.) I am well aware of the cheating scandals that have been identified on these types of tests throughout the country over the past few years, but I see many of these test security measures as simply contributing to test administration inconsistencies. Most of you are familiar with the "Five P's", but most of these test security procedures will not permit me to properly prepare to prevent poor performance, with regard to test administration, when I prepare this week for next week's test. Now many say that I am overly sensitive about this issue, but for anyone to suggest that I need to leave my building before a specific time to eliminate any inference of indiscretion simply doesn't know my character. And, I take offense to the suggestion.

Now that I have that off of my chest, I am confident that our students will continue our trend of improved student achievement as measured by the NJ ASK. Our teachers have prepared them well throughout this school year, our students continue to improve their own reading and learning, and our school community takes pride in our successes.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with state accountability test security measures.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Label, Same Focus

As part of NJ's new accountability system, schools are no longer held to the adequate yearly progress (AYP) provisions of NCLB. Rather, NJ has developed an accountability system where the state's lowest achieving schools will get the majority of attention. If you're interested in the specifics, please read this press release from the Christie Administration.

My real intent with this post is to reflect on our school's (Indiana Avenue School #18) new label within this accountability system. As of today, our school is now a "Reward School." Just 112 schools in the state were tagged with this label. You can view the full list here. Although I am very proud of this designation, just eight months ago we were labeled a "failing school" for not making AYP. So, in less than one school year, we went from being the dregs of our district to achieving the "Reward School" label.

The moral of this post is we haven't lost our focus. Even though we did not make AYP based on our 2011 accountability test results, we knew our students' performance was trending in the right direction. Our data analyses identified that our students' achievement improved as they moved from grade three, to grade four, and then to grade five. We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and we continue to focus on using the data to guide our practice. Our focus hasn't changed because we didn't make AYP, because we knew we were moving our students in the right direction during the years they spent with us. We had evidence that our practice was improving our students' learning. Now, we have the label to support it.

So, today's news is nice for us. It is much better than the alternative, but it really isn't news. It's simply a new label. We'll maintain our focus on getting all of our students to improve their learning during the time each spends with us. That is our job, and we will continue to look to the evidence to do what is best to improve our students' learning.