Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Assessments, Teaching & Learning….

Principal “Reflections & Projections”

Most of the SHS juniors and seniors have completed or will soon complete ACT testing. ACT remains the test of choice for our students. Colleges and Universities still put a great deal of weight on the ACT. In our continued efforts to help prepare our students for that test, we administered the Pre ACT to a select group of sophomore students this year. Upon the sophomores finishing the assessment, we were extremely impressed with the data ACT made available to students, parents and teachers. Moving forward, we plan on paying for and giving the Pre ACT to all sophomores in the 2017-18 school year.  We are also pushing for and hoping the state moves away from Smarter Balance testing and requires all juniors to take the ACT in its place.  Only time will tell.

For now, junior students will continue with the Smarter Balance Assessment to measure skills in Language Arts and Math and the Dakota Step assessment to measure science skills.  Juniors are scheduled to take both tests in April.  DStep science testing will take place on Monday, April 10 and Tuesday, April 11 while Smarter Balance testing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19 and Thursday, April 20.

Teachers at Spearfish High School strongly believe that the focus of our preparation of students needs to be on day to day instruction.  That has been, and will, remain our emphasis. Ninety minutes of teaching and learning four times every single day. Preparing students for college and career readiness is much more important than preparing for any one or two-day standardized test.  With that being said, we do also value the results of the standardized assessments as those do give us data to improve that day to day classroom teaching and learning process.

Over the past couple years, we have entered into a new era of testing.  As we continue to study the procedural part of assessments, is important to remember that student learning is not just about testing. Obviously testing and assessing can tell us certain things and to some extent it is necessary.  Students and teachers should never be held totally accountable just from testing.  Teachers have much more to offer our students than testing alone.

The transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided an opportunity to evaluate the state’s administrative rules relating to teacher and principal effectiveness. The Dep’t of Education (DOE) after consulting with several groups of teachers and administrators, as well as conducting a survey last fall, will be proposing changes to the current rules. This study is intended to better meet student and teacher needs.

Until the time those changes are in place, what follows will give you an understanding of the current tests. It will also give you a few ideas for helping your student do his/her best on the test.

Now having a couple years of categorical data is vital to truly understanding the achievement of our students. Again, with the thought in mind of using the data to improve our day to day instructional practices. Do we want to be rated high? Of course.  The DOE accountability system holds schools accountable through annual public reporting and classification of schools. The expectation is that the model will be used to inform school leaders, teachers, parents and the public as to how schools are progressing. With its emphasis on continuous improvement, it sets a high bar for ongoing reflection and goal setting.  As previously stated, continuous day to day teaching and learning will remain the focus of the data.

To do so we will still receive a School Performance Index rating for the upcoming year.  South Dakota’s accountability system centers around a 100-point index, called the School Performance Index, or SPI. The SPI consists of key indicators of performance. A numeric value is assigned to each of the indicators. These values are added to create a total SPI score out of 100 points. Each public school in the state receives a SPI score. Please visit the SD DOE website if you desire more information.

The Smarter Balanced assessments measure student achievement in relation to our state standards in the areas of English language arts and mathematics. In addition to providing overall scores in those two subjects, score reports will provide information on student performance in the following areas: English: reading, writing, listening, and research. Math: concepts and procedures; problem solving and modeling/data analysis; and communicating reasoning

The content standards set high expectations for students. Our school continues to work hard and make progress on curriculum to make sure that students can meet the challenge of established standards and succeed in high school and beyond. The curriculum is a focus each and every day for each teacher. Several meetings continue to take place to enhance and solidify our curriculum.

While student grades will not be impacted by performance on state assessments, both do serve as a way for the school to see how well we are helping students meet rigorous standards.  Public universities in South Dakota have assisted in the development of these assessments, with the goal of recognizing student scores on the grade 11 assessments as evidence that students are ready for introductory college courses and can be exempted from non-credit remedial courses. Shortly after testing is complete, you will receive a score report.

Since we prepare all students through day to day instruction, there is no need to study in preparation for the assessments. We do, however ask that students try their best and get plenty of rest during the testing time. We also need students in attendance on the scheduled test dates. Please do not schedule appointments, etc. on the days listed.  Making up a missed test means time out of class and losing important learning time that cannot be made up.  We are required to have over 90% of our students complete the testing. Please do everything you can to help us reach that goal.  Thank you for supporting your child during testing time. 

“My favorite question to ask after listening to problems, concerns, and complaints is, imagine if things were going perfectly; what would it look like?” ~Dan Rockwell

Until next time,
Steve Morford
Spearfish High School