State changes testing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

Once again, President George Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind Act is changing the way Alabama's educators are looking at academic progress.

In order to meet new federal guidelines, the Alabama State Department of Education is in the process of transitioning its method of assessment and accountability.

Part of that change includes having an assessment based around Alabama's course of study. Previously, Alabama had required-and will still require-norm testing, which was based on a national standard of achievement.

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To comply with the standard, the state legislature "had to change the law" and that is "not quick or easy," SDE employee Joe Morton said during a pre-briefing Wednesday before the results were officially announced Thursday.

"We will be in line to be fully compliant next summer," he said. "This is the last year of the interim process."

Part of the change includes the type of assessment test administered and the method of reporting data.

Since the Stanford Achievement Test Tenth Edition, which was administered last year, is a different test than the Stanford Achievement Test Ninth Edition, direct and accurate comparisons between the two are not possible. Also, the SAT 9 is based on the 1995 norm. The SAT 10 is based on the 2002 norm and emphasizes critical thinking.

The SDE will also require a writing test in the 10th grade; fifth and seventh grade students already take the writing assessment.

Another change the SDE had to make is in the way the test results are presented. Last year and this year, the data was disaggregated. In other words, test results are broken down into subgroups that include gender, race, migrant status, special education status, English language proficiency and economic level.

State Superintendent of Education Ed Richardson said the disaggregated data will allow schools and school systems to pinpoint areas that need improvement.

"It will enable teachers and administrators to more precisely define the problems and more precisely correct the problems," he said in a press conference Thursday.

Schools and subgroups also fall into seven new classifications based on test results. These classifications include clear, clear with watch, clear with priority, clear with watch and priority, watch, watch with priority and priority.

The subcategory has to include at least 40 students to be classified. If a subgroup has less than 10 students, the score is not publicly reported because individual students could easily be identified.

Academic clear means at least 90 percent of 12th grade students passed all subject-area tests on the Alabama High School Graduation Exam, students performed at the 40 percentile or above on the Stanford Achievement Test, at least 20.11 percent of students taking the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing: Grade Five met academic standards and at least 24.77 percent of students taking the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing: Grade Seven met academic standards.

Academic watch means between 80 and 90 percent of 12th grade students passed all subject-area tests on the graduation exam and the drop-out rate is greater than 15.59 percent (which is the state average), students scored between the 30 and 40 percentile on the SAT 10, less than 20.11 percent of students met academic standards on the fifth-grade writing assessment and less than 24.77 percent of students met academic content standards on the seventh grade writing assessment.

If a school is classified as priority, it means the students performed far below average on each test. In terms of numbers, that translates into less than 80 percent of 12th graders passing the graduation exam, students performing below the 30 percentile on the SAT 10 and no students meeting academic standards on the fifth or seventh grade writing assessment.

Both the school and the subgroups can be classified individually, thus accounting for the different combinations of classifications a school can receive.

Priority schools warrant the attention of the state. Qualified educators will work one-on-one with the schools to help teachers prepare and carry out lesson plans and monitor overall progress.

Morton said 46 schools are priority schools, but the state can only afford to send 30-32 people into the schools.

"There are more priority schools than the state can handle," he said.

Richardson said that for schools to continue improving, the state must have the resources to help them. Cuts in budgets and staff mean struggling schools don't get the attention they need.

"Public education is the life blood of every state," he said. "You cannot let public education unravel."