Seminar examines school testing

Here’s a test question: How many hours does a student spend testing in third and fourth grade?

The Fluvanna County School Board took a deep dive into tests students take during the school year.

The Board held a seminar Tuesday (July 31) in which they spent the bulk of the time learning about testing, how much tests cost, how many there are, how long a student spends taking them and why they’re given.

A common concern among students, parents and teachers is the amount of time spent testing.

If you guessed 36 hours, you are right. In the two years spent in third and fourth grades a student spends about 36 hours of that time taking a standardized test, according to Superintendent Chuck Winkler’s math.

That works out to be two hours a month spent testing and doesn’t include paper tests in subjects their teacher might give.

Virginia mandates students receive 990 hours of instruction per year. That comes to 110 hours of instruction per month.

Does two hours each month taking standardized tests seem too much? Too little?

A couple of times during the seminar Board Chair Perrie Johnson – a former Fluvanna elementary school teacher – pointed out the two hours doesn’t include test preparation.

James Mathieson started his presentation by saying testing just to test isn’t the goal. “We work hard to make sure the assessments are essential and meaningful and lead to continuous student and school improvement,” he said.

When considering testing, Mathieson suggested questions to ask:

Are they required assessments?
Are the assessments part of a cohesive process?
What information are we collecting and why?
Do you know which assessments can give you the answer?
Is there unique information from the assessment?

There is just one federally required assessment – the National Assessment of Educational Progress – that’s given in grades 4, 8 and 12.
The state requires four:

Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS): At-risk screening, administration depends on grade level (kindergarten through third grade)
Standards of Learning (SOL): Accountability measure, administered at course completion (third grade through end of course)
Algebra Readiness: Diagnostic assessment for algebra readiness (fifth through eighth grade)
Industry Credential: State graduation requirement for one earned industry credential (end of course)

The district requires even more to conform to reporting standards.

Some tests assess a student’s ability. Others test comprehension. Still others determine how well a school is meeting students’ academic needs.

While Winkler said no Fluvanna teacher he knows of has ever been dismissed because of students’ low test scores, the scores can inform if the teacher needs help or is in the right profession, he said.

Johnson said when she was teaching third grade, one of her students said, “I know I’m taking the test so you can keep your job.”

It costs $44,730 in 2018 to administer the tests, Winkler said.

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