Henry County Public School administrators are enthusiastic about a new testing program that replaces the state’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System and better helps them track the academic progress of individual students throughout high school.
The state’s College and Career Readiness initiative, mandated last year in Senate Bill 1, adjusts the focus of student testing away from how each district performs compared to other districts, as implemented by the federal No Child Left Behind program, and toward preparing students for college or other post-secondary career training after graduation.
Assistant Superintendent Kricket McClure said the main thrust of the new testing system will be the end-of-course tests that each student must take at the end of specific classes.
Older generations may remember those as final exams. McClure describes them as “final exams on steroids.”
This year, end-of-course tests will be given to students in English II, Algebra II, U.S. History and Biology. The scores will count for 10 percent of a student’s final grade in each class, McClure said.
The end-of-course tests are part of Quality Core, a testing system purchased by HCPS that was designed by ACT Inc., the independent, non-profit firm that created and administers the ACT college-entrance exam taken by juniors and seniors nationwide.
The five-day tests, which will be administered in the spring, are considered to be rigorous, geared toward college and career readiness and designed to help students prepare throughout high school for the ACT later on.
Under CATS, Kentucky Core Content Tests scored students in groups, primarily to determine the performance of the schools and districts. Students were grouped by grade, income, ethnicity and special needs, and all districts were mandated to have all of these student groups attain 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Statewide, most districts have been struggling to attain the goals established by CATS.
What sets the new testing system apart is that the scores now will affect students’ grades. The state mandates that the scores constitute 10-20 percent of a student’s final grade in each course. The percentage was determined by the board of education in each district.
At Henry County High School, the scores will account for 10 percent of the student’s final grade. At Eminence Independent High School, the scores will account for 20 percent.
SB1 has begun the process of moving away from the NCLB standards and focusing on individual student achievement.
“Part of the issue with the old system was that the students had no skin in the game,” McClure explained. “It didn’t mean anything. Now they have to have some accountability.”
Eminence High School Principal Steve Frommeyer agrees. “That makes students accountable to do well (on the tests), whether or not they intend to go to college.”
Additionally, because the end-of-course tests will be more rigorous than teacher-designed tests, in the long run, the students will attain a higher level of proficiency. “They’ll be prepared to do well on the ACT and do well in college,” Frommeyer said.
In addition to the end-of-course testing, teachers are required to give tests at the end of each unit of study throughout the year, about every three weeks, as well as “benchmark” tests that will be given every three months.
Henry County High School Principal Jim Masters explained that the unit tests help determine how each student is faring with short-term mastery of the subject, while the benchmarks determine students’ long-term mastery to show if they’re able to retain what they’ve learned.
At EHS, Frommeyer said his staff is doing its best to step up the level of test questions they are developing for unit tests to raise the level of difficulty to match the rigor anticipated in the end-of-course tests.
“Having not seen the (end-of-course) tests... we’re proceeding as well as possible,” he said, adding that teachers have set targets for each lesson, each day, “that aim at the concepts covered in the tests.” He expects the results of the end-of-course tests this spring to set a benchmark for the school, so that the staff will know better in 2012-13 how best to prepare students.
This year, “we’re working under assumptions, at some level, and it will be much easier the second time around to know what will be required next year,” Frommeyer said. “In the long run, it will be good for everyone, and the students, mostly.”
The Quality Core program used at HCHS provides teachers in each academic area a bank of questions designed by ACT, from which they design their unit and benchmark tests, Masters said. If there is more than one teacher teaching the same class, say English II, the teachers must administer the same questions to all of their students, Masters said.
Every student’s grade on each test is recorded into a database that, when retrieved, shows teachers and administrators exactly where individual students stand academically, Masters said.
Also included in the data for each student are their scores in the eighth-grade EXPLORE test and the 10th grade PLAN test, as well as scores received on their practice ACT tests.
The goal is to get each student to hit the benchmarks for the core subjects on the ACT that will qualify them for admission to post-secondary colleges, universities and career training, Masters said.
Any student that is not meeting those benchmarks is given additional instruction. In school, students attend STOMP sessions – Students and Teachers on the March to Proficiency, — which meets for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday. They may also be pulled from elective courses to give them more time to relearn material, Masters said.
Students also have access to a computer-based program called E-Prep, which they can access at home or after school in the school library. The program tests the students and shows them which questions they missed. The students can go back to those questions they answered incorrectly and watch video tutorials that review the information.
Masters said E-Prep has been very successful and well-received by the students.
The final piece, Masters said, is the students’ Individual Learning Plans, which are developed freshman year and reviewed often each year thereafter.
The ILP is, basically, a road map designed to help each student achieve their career goals, Masters said. It can also be accessed by parents, and shows what career the student is interested in and what he or she needs to do, academically, to get into their chosen field.
The program provides information about what their chosen college or career-training institution requires for admission and helps students to align their course schedules to meet those requirements, Masters said.
In the long run, Masters said he believes the program will help make students successful – in high school and beyond – by helping them to set goals and to know exactly what they need to do to achieve those goals.
“It gets the kids to understand the importance of college and career readiness,” he said. “If we didn’t communicate with kids what we expect from them, how will they know?”
Masters said he is proud of the advances the teachers and the students have made in raising test scores schoolwide, and believes this new testing system will bring even more success. “We’ve really improved over the past three years, but with this assessment, we’ll be able to really shine.”