August 9, 2008

County Drops Some Standardized Tests

The Columbia County school board recently agreed to eliminate one round of standardized testing for some pupils next year.

The board decided to do away with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for third-graders after Superintendent Charles Nagle told them the state would pay for these tests in only two grades.

In the past, the state paid for the ITBS for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders.

Board members questioned whether the tests were necessary, but Nagle said, "It kind of gives us a national balance here to see how we're performing."

In other business, the school system released the retest results of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

"Although we have some deficiencies here, we know the bar has been raised. The bar should be raised. We're trying to meet the new standards," Nagle said.

Math scores plummeted statewide and in Columbia County for fifth- and eighth-graders, who were tested under a more rigorous curriculum for the first time this year. The new curriculum requires pupils to apply concepts and higher-order thinking skills rather than recall facts.

The school system offered a three-week remediation session in June for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who failed the reading or math portions of the CRCT in the spring. Of the 916 pupils who took reading or math retests, 499 passed the exams.

After the retests were given, 87 percent of the county's eighth- graders passed the math portion and 97 percent passed the reading section. Fifth-grade results indicated that 91 percent and 98 percent passed the math and reading portions, respectively, and 97 percent of third-graders passed the reading section.

Third-graders must pass the reading portion of the CRCT to be promoted. Fifth- and eighth-graders must pass the reading and math sections of the CRCT for advancement.

The parents of a pupil who still did not pass a test on the second try can request a placement meeting to appeal for their child's promotion to the next grade. The meeting will include the parent, school principal and classroom teacher, and all three parties must agree on the decision to promote the child.

Nagle said the schools are contacting parents by letter and by phone to set up meetings. He said decisions will be based on a child's overall performance.

"If these children are close, if they passed their regular course work and did well in other areas, why should we hold them back?" he asked.

Nagle said he did not put the responsibility for the lower test scores on the children.

"I think that teacher training was not afforded from the state," he said.

Originally published by Betsy Gilliland Staff Writer.

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