Sunday, April 22, 2001

Next two weeks are crucial for schools

Image, state money ride on test performance

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let the testing begin.

        Schools across Kentucky have been working all year to get ready for the next two weeks, during which tests will judge how well schools are doing.

        Starting Monday, students will be drilled on subjects from reading to science to music as part of Kentucky's annual accountability checks, revamped in 1998 to measure whether schools meet state standards.

[photo] John Williamson, assistant superintendent in the Fort Thomas School District, talks with parents at Woodfill Elementary last week at a take-the-test night.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It's not something that students can study for,” said Kaki Nagel, principal of Kenton Elementary in Independence. “If we haven't been doing the job since kindergarten, they aren't going to do well.”

        Testing has become a focus all year. Many schools build lessons around state standards, teach test-taking strategies and hold academic pep rallies to motivate students.

        “A big part of this is getting them game-ready,” said David Morrison, principal of Woodland Middle School in Taylor Mill. He met with students last week to encourage them on the tests. “I'm sort of tapping into that competitive spirit.”

        Some schools even test students' parents.

        Woodfill Elementary in Fort Thomas held a take-the-test night for parents last week to give them a taste of what's expected of their children. The parents tested their skills on sample questions from previous exams.

        “They don't have any idea what these kids go through,” said Deborah Johnston, a second-grade teacher at Woodfill.

    Try your hand at these sample questions from Kentucky's 1999 state assessment test. Or go online and click on “Take the Test” on the Kentucky Department of Education's Web site.

Elementary school - Social Studies
    • Native American cultures have contributed many ideas to modern American culture. One of these ideas is:
   A. Using money to buy goods.
   B. Owning property.
   C. Respecting nature.
   D. Writing books.

Middle school - Science
    • Imagine that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere decreased. The effect that this would have on an organism's ability to breathe would be similar to the effect that would occur if the organism moved from:
   A. Sea level to a mountaintop.
   B. Sea level to a valley below sea level.
   C. A mountaintop to sea level.
   D. A mountaintop to a valley at sea level.

High school - Math
    • In the expression xy, the values of x and y are each decreased by 25 percent. The new value of xy is what percent of the original value of xy?
   A. 31.64%
   B. 50%
   C. 56.25%     D. 75%

   (Answers: C, A, C)

    • Go to bed early the nights before test days.
    • Eat a good breakfast on test days.
    • Parents, talk to your children about the tests and what's expected.
    • Say something positive to your children before they leave for school, and ask how they thought they did at the end of the day. It lets them know you think education is important.
    • Make sure your child's school understands the connection between the tests and the state curriculum, called “core content.”
        Kentucky's Commonwealth Accountability Testing System scores schools on a state assessment test, a national test and nonacademic data such as dropout and attendance rates. The state combines these factors and others to get a school's accountability index.

        Schools that improve get bonus bucks from the state, and those that don't are subject to a state audit. Low-scoring schools are assigned an educator from the state and have to write school improvement plans.

        If a school continues to lag, the state will take control and teachers and administrators risk losing their jobs.

        Students, however, aren't penalized for poor performance, unlike in Ohio, where students must pass to get promoted.

        Students in grades 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 will take the state test, a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions in reading, math, science, social studies, writing, arts/humanities and practical living/vocational studies. Grades 3, 6 and 9 will take the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, which compares Kentucky students with peers across the country.

        State officials are not the only ones who scrutinize performance. The scores are important to public image and staff morale, said Ms. Nagel, whose school received rewards last year for improved performance.

        “The public does judge us to some degree by test scores. It does hold the school accountable, and we should be,” she said. “We've been in decline in the past, and it affects the teachers' attitudes because they feel so bad that they didn't have better scores.”

        Covington Independent Schools is well aware of what poor test scores can mean. The district, which has posted some of the lowest scores in the state, has been under close state supervision since last summer after a scathing state audit.

        To improve its standing, Covington revamped its curriculum, provided more teacher training and monitored classroom lessons.

        Students have been practicing on sample questions, and the schools are offering rewards to students.

        “The more you can motivate students to perform, the better off you are,” said Jeff Volter, Covington's executive director of scholastic compliance.

        But all the preparation comes to an end this week once the test booklet seals are broken.

        “We can't control things from this point on,” Mr. Volter said. “We've done everything we could up until this point. You can't worry about it last minute.

        “But I'll be waiting on pins and needles until Sept. 15.”

        That's when schools get their results.


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