By ANGELA FARR KING
Dr. Betsy Curry, the Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for Alexander County Schools, has a nose for data. She studies data daily in order to keep a pulse on the progress of all children in the Alexander County School System.
In a recent Alexander Cuonty Board of Education presentation and follow up interview, she broke down the scores, talked about standardized testing, and explained the achievement of Alexander County students in grades K-3 as compared to other systems in the Northwest Region.
It is important to note that the data Dr. Curry shared is based on 2021 state testing results because data from 2022 has not been finalized yet. Curry compared the Reading End of Grade (EOG) test scores with other counties in the Northwest region of North Carolina and Alexander County Schools and noted that ACS students scored 56.1% proficient, keeping them consistent with scores in Ashe County at 56.9% and Watauga County at 59.3%, the two highest counties in the NW Region.
To an experienced educator, these scores seem low, but Curry explained that this percentage only includes students who passed the regular End of Grade test in third grade. This is one measure to show that students achieved proficiency at the end of third grade. The percentage does not include students who achieved proficiency on alternative assessments, including:
1. Beginning of Grade Test
2. Portfolio Assessment
3. Alternative Assessment (ACS currently uses iReady online testing for this.)
4. The Read to Achieve Test
Dr. Curry explained that when these alternative assessments are included in ACS proficiency scores in third grade, the number is actually 75%. When scores from students with disabilities that take the Extend 1 or 2 tests are included, the percentage jumps to 83% proficiency, making Alexander County number two in the Northwest Region. All of the assessments need to be considered to truly interpret the reading scores of ACS third graders.
It is also important to note that in order for students to be considered proficient in reading at the end of third grade, they must score a 3, 4, or 5 on their Reading EOG test. Curry pointed out in her presentation the typical Lexile levels (a measure of reading ability) for children ages 7-9 are 450L-725L, but in order to score a 3 on the EOG, a student needs to be in the 725L Lexile level range. That means that for a third grader to be proficient on a reading EOG, they need to score at the high end of their normed Lexile level. This makes it extremely challenging for many students to be successful on their EOG tests. They must score at the highest Lexile level to score the lower passing grade of 3.
Those involved in the testing procedure continue to say that the testing process itself is not developmentally appropriate. The test can take up to 180 minutes in a sterile environment. All resources are covered or removed (which is not how anyone truly reads advanced materials). Students cannot read aloud to themselves unless they have special accommodations. Bathroom breaks are scheduled and allowed spontaneously only in emergencies and it has only been in the last 6 or 7 years that students have been allowed to have water bottles available during testing. The room is silent. Teachers cannot encourage or answer questions, even about the format of the test. It’s a very intimidating environment for the highest achievers, but especially for any children who may experience testing anxiety.
Requirements for testing students generally come from the General Assembly, such as Senate Bill 387 / SL 2021-8, also known as the Excellent Public Schools Act, passed in 2021. This bill sets forth expectations for reading achievement for students across the state. Once the Assembly passes a bill, it is then passed to the state Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and then handed down to school systems to implement.
School system administrators and teachers have tied hands when it comes to testing procedures and outcome expectations. Basic child development classes for all elementary education programs require teachers to know and understand age appropriate lessons filled with differentiation of levels and learning styles, movement, attention to students’ interests, and creativity.
Basically, if teachers were observed teaching the way that the state tests students, they would be reprimanded and given poor evaluations.
The testing will only get more difficult as NC plans to implement online EOG testing fully next year even for third graders in Reading. This means that students who are taught to reread, highlight, and annotate texts will not be able to do so on a computer screen without very complicated directions for technology usage.
The state will also be mandating the choice of alternative assessments. This means that even though Alexander County has been using iReady for alternative assessments for several years, that could change, making it necessary for teachers and students to relearn yet another assessment format. This is a common practice from the state of North Carolina — just when students and teachers become familiar with using and interpreting a program, the state changes it.
Keeping all of these factors in mind means that K-3 students in Alexander County actually did pretty well on their reading assessments, despite the odds being stacked against them.
Dr. Curry said that “just because some students don’t test well, doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, productive members of society.” She also said that “No one works harder than Al
exander County teachers to do what is expected of them.”
She believes the reading ability of our third graders is testimony to the fact that teachers are doing a good job balancing high expectations and student engagement.