December 2017 Newsletter: Assessment 101—Why Do We Test Students and How Does it Help?

Standardized assessment of nation’s public school students is a practice that dates to the 19th century but experienced its most significant growth more than a century and a half later with the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2002. The practice was introduced in Boston schools in the 1850s by education reform advocate and politician Horace Mann, who wanted to determine the best teaching methods in the hopes of eliminating any gaps in achievement. Over time, however, standardized testing critics have argued that these assessments do more to highlight achievement gaps and privilege than they do to guide teaching methods. (Read this brief history of standardized testing in the U.S.)

Shaker Heights Schools seeks to balance what’s best for students and their learning with state and federal testing requirements. The District is intentional about the assessments it selects for students and mindful of over-testing. 

Even so, assessments remain a helpful tool that contribute to a more complete view of each student and his/her progress. Assessments enable teachers to evaluate and monitor progress in specific subject areas, fulfill federal and state requirements, and provide information on where our students stand compared to students around the country. The results of these assessments---along with teacher observations/feedback, student work and regular progress monitoring---help guide instruction and determine the effectiveness of our instruction.

We realize that information on assessment can be both overwhelming and confusing. To help clarify the what and when of assessment, we’ve created this Assessment 101. We’ll define the tests we administer and why students take them. We’ll also explain when your student will be assessed. 

Common Assessments

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA): A state-mandated test administered to all first-time Kindergartners that enables teachers to get to know students as learners. KRA assesses a student’s social/emotional development, math and language/literacy skills, and physical well-being a motor development. This test is administered before November 1 of a student’s kindergarten year.

Measures of Academic Progress (MAP): MAP Growth is a computer adaptive test created by NWEA that students in grades K-8 take three times per school year. The results provide teachers with information to help them deliver appropriate content for each student and determine each student’s academic growth over time. MAP has allowed Shaker to reduce its testing because it can be used for: assessing the 3rd grade reading guarantee; screening for giftedness; projecting the results on Ohio State Achievement Tests; and projecting college/career readiness on the ACT. MAP has a Parent Toolkit available here.   

At times, teachers may need very specific information more often than three times a year. When that occurs, an assessment like Aimsweb Plus may be used to measure individual progress in reading and/or math.

Ohio State Achievement Tests: Students in Grades 3-8 take State achievement tests in English/language arts (in a 15-day window between March 26 and April 27) and math (in a 15-day window between April 2 to May 11) to determine growth according to Ohio Learning Standards. Students in Grades 5 and 8 are also tested in science (also between April 2 and May 11).

End of Course Exams: State tests for high school students (and some middle school students) enrolled in Algebra I and Geometry, English 9 and 10, biology and physical science, and American government and American history. This year, these tests will be given between December 4 and January 12.

PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT10: These exams prepare students for the SAT and give students an idea of their college and career readiness. Once a student receives the results, he/she can access a program developed by Khan Academy that provides online instruction that is tailored to that student, based on the scores. This service is free.  

College Admissions Testing: The ACT and the SAT are administered on scheduled Saturdays at Shaker Heights High School during the school year. Scores from one of both of these tests are required by colleges and universities for college-bound students. 

Visit the Assessment section of shaker.org and the Assessment section of the Ohio Department of Education for more information on State Learning Standards, testing dates and Ohio Graduation Requirements.

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