Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2007

High-tech assesssment preparation under way

Computer receiving workouts prior to tests

February 21, 2007

Basehor-Linwood students are trading in answer sheets and No. 2 pencils for computer programs and a click of a mouse during state assessments.

And it seems that few students miss filling in those little bubbles.

"For the most part, students prefer the computerized tests," Sandy Guidry, director of curriculum and instruction for the district said. "The advantage of it is their scores are back generally in just a matter of hours. Scores from pencil-and-paper tests can take a month or more."

The Kansas State Assessments are the basis for Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP, the minimum amount of improvement schools in the state must achieve in math and reading. Each individual state's board of education sets achievement goals progressively higher each year to hopefully reach the goal of having each child at 100 percent proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as a part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Scores can affect funding and accreditation, and educators are constantly looking for ways to improve them.

With the direction technology is taking, Guidry said the district jumped at the chance to provide computers for students. The district is now embarking on its third year of computerized assessments.

"As soon as the computers were available, as computer literate as students are these days, we thought we should start as soon as we can," she said. "The thing that keeps other districts from doing it is lack of technology. Having the technology and knowing that opportunity was there for our students is what drove it."

Students in Lynn Sweeney's fifth-grade class at Linwood Elementary School donned headphones and focused their attention on their individual computer screens Monday afternoon. Schools in the district will take the assessments during a month and a half window beginning in March, but students are using time in the computer lab now to take formative tests, or practice tests, for the upcoming assessments. Sweeney's class worked on a formative test Monday for the reading part of the assessment, which is broken up into four different pieces: Narrative or fictional pieces, expository or factual pieces, technical pieces, such as recipes or instructions, and persuasive pieces.

Sweeney informed students they would be answering questions about a persuasive piece and went over the type of questions that might be asked on the test.

"The author is trying to get you to do something," Sweeney said to the class. "You have to know the difference between a fact and an opinion."

Students have a variety of different tools available to them on the program to help them highlight important information or tag a keyword in the selection. Sweeney emphasized that as fifth-graders, the students are not just expected to comprehend the words in the selection and answer questions regurgitated from the text.

"They have to be able to infer answers; read between the lines so to speak," she said.

While the formative tests are only examples of what questions will appear on the actual assessments, Sweeney said, the same indicators are tested. And, she can also tell which indicators are giving her students trouble because feedback is immediate -- for teachers and students.

Teachers can work with the class as a whole on a common troublesome indicator or on an individual basis. Right after students complete a formative test, they know which questions they have answered incorrectly, the answer they put and the correct answer. The formative tests also help put students more at ease for the actual assessment, Sweeney said.

"I can target areas with the whole class or individuals," Sweeney said to school board members during a presentation last week. "I formulate my plans for my lessons from these tests. Then, I have them retake the tests to see if there was improvement made."

Most of Sweeney's students revealed that they have access to a computer at home and use it to do various things such as play games, receive and send e-mail and type spelling words, so taking computerized assessments is like second nature to them. Those that do not have a computer at home, receive ample computer time at school through time in the lab and the mobile carts, which contain up to 30 laptop computers and travel from classroom to classroom, Sweeney said.

"Many of these kids are more computer savvy than I am," she said. "They know how to do this so well they can practically do it in their sleep."

For students that are still a little iffy about the computerized assessments, there is an experiment going on at Basehor-Linwood Middle School, Guidry said. In an effort to make students feel more comfortable and in turn improve test scores, middle school students met with their teachers and counselors several months ago to decide whether they wanted to take the assessments with a pencil and paper or by computer.

"With the reading test it really seems to stand out," Guidry said. "Some students are more comfortable reading the paper form than on the screen. If the results are improved and we get positive feedback, as long as the state allows it, we will continue to offer the option. It could be something that could go district wide if it's successful."

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