New student testing makes strides in second year

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 5, 2014

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Chippewa Valley Schools officials believe a student assessment system that was put in place a year ago has been more successful this year as students, teachers and administrators have made adjustments.

At the Board of Education’s Oct. 20 meeting, Dr. Pamela Jones, the district’s director of curriculum and assessment, gave a detailed presentation about the new testing system. During the 2013-14 school year, the district began using the Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments. Chippewa Valley students in grades K-10 now take MAP tests three times per year: once each during the fall, winter and spring.

“This is our second year using NWEA assessments,” Jones explained. “I think as you learn something new, the first year is always a growing, learning year. Last year, we had quite a few technology glitches, but we really haven’t had that problem this year, which we were happy to see.”

Students are given MAP tests three times annually in order to monitor their growth over the course of the school year, Jones said. This fall, Chippewa Valley Schools successfully assessed about 98 percent of K-10 students across the district. Students in grades K-2 were tested in reading and mathematics, while those in grades 3-10 were tested in reading, math and language usage. In addition, fifth- and sixth-graders will be tested twice this year in science.

Beyond fixing the previous technology glitches, Jones pointed out a number of other improvements that were made this year. These include ongoing monitoring of students needing support, better communication with parents, professional development for para-educators, data teams and data review in each school, and goal-setting for each student.

“All of our principals are working together with students and teachers to do individualized goal-setting,” Jones said. “Students taking ownership of their own learning and being highly motivated is a key component of improved achievement.”

Jones noted that at all grade levels in Chippewa Valley Schools, the average growth in reading scores within the same cohort from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014 was greater than the national average. Still, in order to make further gains, district officials are considering adding a third English-language arts curricular leader and will continue to review the district’s reading curriculum, with special focus on grades K-5. There will also be additional professional development for elementary school teachers and ongoing work with middle school and high school teachers to implement the Common Core state standards.

Likewise, Chippewa Valley students demonstrated levels of growth in math that exceeded the averages at the national level. Jones stated that with the district’s recent purchase of the Bridges in Mathematics program for students in grades K-5, elementary school math scores should continue to improve once the more rigorous program is fully integrated into the curriculum. The district also now has four math curricular leaders, who spend time each week providing student support within each elementary school. In addition, there is greater focus on math in teachers’ professional development, and many schools now offer family math nights to help parents better support their kids at home.

“Math has been more of a struggle (than reading),” Jones told the board, “but our teachers are spending more time than ever working on math with their students. I think you will really see that pay off in our assessment results a year from now.”

In science, Chippewa Valley students have performed fairly well, Jones said, by staying on par with the national expectations. However, their scores have not been consistent from one school building to the next, with fifth-graders in five schools tested this fall performing best on life science, four schools performing best on physical science and two schools performing best on earth science. Because this is the first year of science testing, Jones indicated that the district’s science curricular leaders are still working with fifth-grade teachers to review their science curriculum and make upgrades. Sixth-grade students, meanwhile, are still in the process of completing their MAP science tests.

According to Jones, above all else, Chippewa Valley administrators are using the extensive data from the NWEA assessments to enhance classroom instruction.

“This is not just about collecting data,” she said. “This is about, ‘How do we utilize this data to drive instructional decisions that we are making all the time?’ Our ultimate goal is to help students improve areas where they are struggling so they are performing well in all subjects.”

By identifying these problem areas and working to solve them, district officials also hope that  students will increase their scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and the Michigan Merit Exam (MME), as well as develop skills that will help them gain future employment. As Ed Skiba, the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary education, told the board, the NWEA tests aim to achieve these goals for students of all ages and abilities.

“This program not only helps us (make improvements) with our low-end kids,” Skiba said. “It helps a lot of our high-end kids, as well.”

Still, there is a significant learning curve at play here as Chippewa Valley officials adapt to the new approach that these rigorous assessments have brought to the district. According to Superintendent Ron Roberts, although teachers and administrators have done a good job of adjusting to the change, it all remains a work in progress.

“As much as we have learned from last year to this year, we still have a lot more to learn,” Roberts said. “This really represents a cultural shift in how we do things, and it will continue to evolve over time. … So much of this is in response to the Common Core, which our country, our state and our district are still adjusting to. And that takes time — it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

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