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School board talks tests

PINE PLAINS — On Wednesday, Sept. 21, Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center Principal Richard Azoff and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Catherine Parsons gave a presentation to the Pine Plains Board of Education (BOE) and the meeting attendants about the tests used to evaluate student progress.

The presentation is the first in a series that will give a deeper explanation of the state tests and an analysis of the results to give a broader context of the performance of the students in the Pine Plains Central School District and how the teachers and school administration use the data to make teaching more effective.

Pine Plains uses several state and local tests to evaluate the students.

State tests

The New York State Assessments include the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA), the New York State English as a Second Language Assessment Test (NYSLAT), Regents tests, Regents Competency Tests (RCT), English language arts (ELA) tests for grades three through eight, math tests for grades three through eight and science tests for grades four and eight.

The state tests have undergone several recent changes, including the elimination of some tests, such as the social studies tests for grades five and eight and the Foreign Language Proficiency Examination.

The states ELA and math exams have seen an increase in the difficulty of the questions. This was done to align the tests with the requirements of the new Common Core Curriculum standards. The alignment will not be complete for another three years, so the questions will continue to evolve during that time.

The questions of those tests are also now sequestered, which prevents the teachers from analyzing the test results on a question-by-question basis.

Parsons said that by analyzing the questions, the teachers were not learning how to teach to the test. Instead, the teachers mostly gain valuable teaching lessons, such as which vocabulary to use when teaching each subject.

The biggest change to the Regents examinations is the elimination of the Local Diploma option for all but the special education students.

This change does not affect the Pine Plains students because the district has not offered the option of a Local Diploma for a number of years. All students have been required to receive a Regents Diploma.

This change will affect the data collected from other schools that may or may not have offered the Local Diploma option. This new change will result in more equal data with which school districts can be compared to one another.

Local tests

The New York State Education Department’s Race to the Top initiative includes a provision for local assessment data to be used in the calculation of teacher and principal yearly evaluations.

The Pine Plains Central School District was one of the first districts in the state to adopt the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

The MAP tests are computer-based exams that adapt to each test-taker while the exam is in progress to determine the extent of the knowledge base of the student taking the test.

In other words, a fourth-grader taking the test will answer questions, and based on those answers, the test will get harder or easier to determine at which grade level the student is. That means that the fourth-grader might test at the fourth-grade level, but it is also possible that he or she will test at a grade level lower or higher.

Since the MAP tests are taken on a computer and graded by the computer, it saves the teachers a lot of time that would normally be needed for grading. It also means that the test results are immediately available and changes can be implemented in the classroom right away.

The Pine Plains School District uses the MAP test to screen new students entering the district.

The test is also used to screen current students for Academic Intervention Services (AIS) and special education services.

Teachers use the results to measure student growth within a school year to identify the instructional level and adapt the instruction to the needs of the students.

Upcoming presentations to be delivered during the Board of Education meetings will touch upon the most recent state data; the most recent New York state report card and related data; and an in-depth analysis into the MAP test.

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