Forum takes mystery out of testing

By Jerome Brown
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

AYP? EOC? EOG? The alphabet soup of standardized test terminology is confusing for many parents who want to know what determines their child’s proficiency in school. On Nov. 4, the Durham Allies for Responsive Education tried to clear things up for about 30 parents who attended a forum at E.K. Powe Elementary School.

Lewis Ferebee, cheif of staff of Durham Public Schools talks to attendees about the future of Durham schools. (Staff photo by Jerome Brown)

In addition to explaining the terms which are, by the way, Adequate Yearly Progress, End-of-Course assessments, and End of Grade assessments, the panelists talked about the future of standards in Durham Public Schools and upcoming changes in standardized testing.

One piece of useful advice came from Jennie Peters, a parent and educational psychologist, who reminded parents that the information key that accompanies score reports usually explains many of the terms.

She also clarified what each test determines and how they are used by the school system to evaluate students.

Lewis Ferebee, chief of staff of Durham Public Schools, presented changes DPS plans to implement in the near future. One of these is the use of benchmark assessments that will be given every quarter to better predict the outcome of EOGs.

“We want to move away from calling it ‘testing’ to calling them ‘assessments’ and transition from ‘attaining proficiency’ to ‘charting growth,’” said Ferebee.

Proficiency levels on many tests are scored on four levels: Level 1- insufficient mastery, Level 2 – inconsistent mastery, Level 3 – consistent mastery; at grade level and Level 4 – superior mastery.

Efforts to reach consistent mastery often focus heavily on students who are at a level 2, closet to grade level proficiency, and students at the bottom (Level 1) and top (Level 4) are being left out because they either aren’t close to the proficiency standards or are above the level of mastery.

Ferebee feels that all students should be encouraged to high levels.  “We want to make sure the assessment system is more informative to tell us what students know and don’t know to move everybody towards mastery of the material.”

Louis Fabrizio, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Director of Accountability Policy and Communications, informed the attendees about initiatives and plans that will be implemented in North Carolina in the coming years.

North Carolina is one of 31 states participating in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  The SBAC was awarded a four-year, $160 million Race-to-the-Top Assessment grant on Sept 2. 2010 to develop a student assessment system aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

North Carolina is one of the 31 states nationwide participating in the SBAC. As a governing state, North Carolina is granted decision-making participation.

By 2014-15, students in North Carolina will be taking online assessments created by SBAC. The online system, touted as a computer adaptive assessment system, generates questions based on how students answer previous questions.

“Tests have historically been multiple choice, but these tests generated by the SBAC will provide students with more than multiple choice items,” said Fabrizio.

Derek Jones, a parent with children in DPS, left the forum with a greater understanding of testing, the terminology, and the driving forces behind it.

“It put a lot into context,” said Jones. “From the standpoint of politics, economics, and the changes in testing for the 2014-15 year — I’m sure any parent wants to be informed of what’s going on in regards to testing.”

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