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One Blue Nation – High school uses testing to improve (Dec. 17, 2014 issue)

Can you feel it in the air? Cold weather, snow blowing, lots of people shopping. Yes, it is time for fall and of course testing at the high school.
Each year, all across the state, high schools administer the end of course (EOC) exams two times. The more popular time is of course in the spring because it coincides with the TCAP administration in the elementary and middle grades.
But, here at the high school we get the pleasure of doing the testing dance twice a year. So when most people are getting ready for holiday parties and Christmas programs, our teachers and students are sweating out the testing our students must endure.
Most people who have children or grandchildren understand that schools do state testing in order to determine a child’s progress and achievement level in school. This also provides data for our accountability to the state and federal government (more on that in a bit).
The most popular form of testing is the TCAP which is administered to all students in grades 3-8. The high school is different. We only have certain courses that have EOC tests, so not every student tests every semester or in every class. Our EOC courses include Algebra I & II, English I, II, and III, Biology I, Chemistry I, and in most years U.S History. We have to give these twice a year because our class schedule is considered a block schedule. This means our classes end at the end of the gall semester (Christmas) and students begin a new set of classes in the spring (January).
When we administer state testing it really throws our school for a loop. The schedules of the classes have to be altered in order to get the tests given. Each test has to be given at the same time.
For example, all Algebra I tests are given on Monday morning (as if Mondays weren’t fun enough). So, every student that has Algebra I reports to a classroom and completes their test. The tests are untimed so they do get as much opportunity as they need in order to finish. We repeat this process for four days. So, you can see how that throws our schedule for a loop during the school day.
I have to give credit to Dr. Catherine Edwards for all of her hard work setting up the testing schedule. Also, our Guidance Counselor Tammy Lockner and Melissa Peterson work themselves to death helping to set that schedule and then do all of the paperwork associated with the testing process.
All of these ladies work so hard to make sure the testing goes smooth here and it is quite a job. We want to have as small a footprint on the school day as possible. These ladies, under Dr. Edwards’ direction, have come up with creative ways to make sure that learning is still taking place each day we test. School goes on despite the tests messing with the schedule.
Why all of these tests? Accountability in education matters. We need to know how our students are progressing. This data is measured against other schools to see where we stack up as a school.
If you listen to the news at all you probably have heard something about education accountability and test scores. Unfortunately lawmakers, educators, and others get too caught up sometimes just looking at numbers. Behind every test score is a student. Within every student is a story about learning that sometimes tests don’t measure. But we use this data to try and help educate our students better. We look at how each student has achieved and find ways both they and we can improve.
Despite what you may have heard, educators don’t fear accountability. We welcome it if it is done correctly. Teachers want to be measured because any teacher worth their salt can show you something their students have learned.
So, while standardized testing is the flavor of accountability right now, there are other ways to show gains in student learning. I think in the future we will see more creative and productive ways to measure the progress of our students. But for now we test and then test some more.
It is a necessary evil, I suppose. But as educators at UCHS we strive to use the data we get from these tests to help our students be better. That is our ultimate goal in testing and should be every school’s goal.