High stakes testing begins in Tahoe Truckee
It is just after 7 a.m. as approximately 200 students crowd into the cafeteria at the local middle school eating a free breakfast and blowing off steam by shooting practice basketball in wall-mounted portable basketball hoop.Some of the students get a little rowdy and wrestle, before a school administrator walks by causing them to stop. Nervous energy fills the roomful of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.Tuesday marks the first day of week-long standardized testing for students at North Tahoe Middle School. In fact, almost every district student from grades second through eleventh will be taking the California Standards Test, or CST, during the month of May, according to the districts Director of Educational Services Dave Curry.The test, although not required for students to move to the next grade level or to graduate high school, will determine whether the district moves away from the title of program improvement school.The standardized test is also a piece of how student achievement is tracked, Curry said, explaining that significant state and federal funding is tied to overall achievement.
In March, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District was named as one of 96 California school districts in program improvement that could face state sanctions. The district, now in its third year, is the only Placer County district to face the sanctions.The term program improvement is given to districts whose students have not met adequate yearly progress two years in a row, according to the California Department of Education Web site. The progress is measured by the California Standardized Test mandated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.Curry said the district will hold itself responsible for helping students who grade poorly on the test to achieve future success.Every kid can learn, he said. No matter what theyre background, they can learn thats what this [collaboration] is about.
Parallel to the testing, Curry explained every teacher in the district is involved in creating a district-wide assessment that is tied to the state standards.He said because the results of the California Standards Test come out in August, the test is almost like an autopsy, not helping the student who takes the test, just the student that comes after. The district collaboration effort is an attempt to establish small weekly assessments to find out what the students know and make adjustments in instruction quickly, he said.Thats what our collaboration efforts have been about addressing student learning immediately, he said. The most important question is how will we respond when students are not learning?
The standardized test measures student progress toward California’s academic standards, one of the highest in the country, Curry said. The state standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each grade and subject tested.The test results are reported to the California Department of Education which reports the results to the federal government agency in charge of No Child Left Behind Act, Curry said.Students scores are compared to pre-determined criteria to determine if the students performance on the test is advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, or far below basic. The state target is for all students to score at the proficient or advanced levels.But the test, said Truckee Elementary second grade Teacher Anna Davis, can have skewed results because sometimes one state standard can be summarized in one question. If the student has a moment of forgetfulness then it looks like they do not know the material, she explained.Its frustrating to think that the public holds the be all end all of learning with one score, she said.
To prepare the students for the grind of test-taking and take out what Curry calls the factors that should not be factors like positive thinking, fear of tests and sleep the administration at the North Tahoe Middle School treat the 255 students to a variety of breakfast items daily during test week, said Principal Teresa Rensch.The teachers also conduct test preparation strategies and the students put on a test prep rally the day before, instructing the students on the dos and donts of test-taking. The administrators provide pencils with positive messages printed on them like rock the test and give out chewing gum, mint candies and bananas, Rensch said.According to research Rensch has conducted, mint is calming, chewing gum helps with concentration and bananas are good for brain function.Meanwhile across the district, in a second-grade class at Truckee Elementary School, 18 students nervously set about taking the first practice CST test of their lives.Second-grade teacher Anna Davis said no consequences come as a result of a low score on the tests at the elementary level.
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Jaime Alessio took this video of a bobcat wandering around Kings Beach in broad daylight.