Students, schools make strides toward improving test scores | SierraSun.com

Students, schools make strides toward improving test scores

Renée Shadforth
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun A class at Glenshire Elementary School works on a writing exercise last school year. The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is trying to create solutions in and out of the classroom to meet state and federal standardized test goals.
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Tahoe Truckee Unified School District officials are crunching standardized test data to see how they can improve upon where it matters most – in the classroom.However, those same officials know the results are also important to the state and federal government. According to preliminary results, it appears as though students in the district are generally performing better, but still have some ground to cover, according to school district Curriculum Director Jessamy Lasher.She and her staff are still computing the numbers, and ultimately, Lasher would like to use the data to find out which students need more help in the classroom.”We use the data to see where we can improve,” said Lasher, who presented the test data at a school board meeting last month. “We need to find out, were these results an anomaly? These are things we need to try and look at.”Part of the challenge is breaking apart all the variables for students – such as language barriers, socioeconomic status and success level in certain subject areas – and creating solutions based on that data. Sometimes that means tweaking the curriculum, other times it means pulling certain students out of class to give them more help.Some subgroups of children in the district – like English learners and those below the poverty line – are still performing below the standards set by the state and federal government, despite improvements over last year.

“Students that are struggling are below the poverty level,” Lasher said. “They’re struggling in life, and they’re struggling in school.”Achieving academic goalsHowever, students in Tahoe Truckee Unified are marching closer to the state’s goal for schools with the Academic Performance Index (API). The API growth report, given to schools each fall, looks at how a school site performed this year versus last.The index uses a scale that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000. The state has set 800 as the goal schools should meet. Currently, Tahoe Truckee Unified stands at 748, 16 points higher than it was last year.If schools do not attain that goal, the state has set annual increments the schools should meet until they reach or exceed an API score of 800. As a district, Tahoe Truckee Unified has exceeded those increments.The API score is calculated by taking the scores of various tests. In TTUSD that means taking results from the California Standards Test, which students take in second through 11th grade, and the California High School Exit Exam, which students typically begin taking in 10th grade. The exit exam is not yet required by California for graduation.

California uses the API to see if schools are meeting the requirements set forth in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This year, the district did meet the act’s yearly progress requirements. The district also meets the act’s graduation rate requirements.Keeping scores in perspectiveThe school district, however, has not met one of No Child Left Behind’s provisions, which requires all students be “proficient” on the California Standards Test by 2014. The CST ranks students on a scale that goes from advanced to proficient to basic to below basic to far below basic.The school district’s performance on the CST looks like a bell curve, with the results ranging from far below basic to advanced.”This is one of the biggest problems with No Child Left Behind,” Lasher said. “It is statistically impossible to get all of these students proficient. It is a wonderful goal, but the concern is: How do we help these kids?”

Though the tests are important indicators of school performance to the state and feds, school board President Cindy Gustafson said parents should keep the scores in perspective.”One dangerous thing with test scores is that this is an aggregate thing,” Gustafson said at last month’s board meeting. “But what really matters is how our children are doing in school.”Parents who are concerned about their children’s standardized test scores can ask teachers to view the multiple measures on which the students were tested, Lasher said. Another method, she said, is to look at a student’s writing to gauge growth over time.On the NetUpdates, school scores and parent guides on the Academic Performance Index:http://api.cde.ca.gov/