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VIEWPOINT: What testing means for student achievement

We just completed the winter sports and activity season. For many of our athletes and performers, determining how well they did in a selected event or how much they improved throughout the season would not be possible without measurements and assessments. Records were set this season and accolades were shared based on these measures. As we enter the spring testing season, I wanted to explain how our state and district testing systems provide us with data we use to determine how students are progressing based on the standards we are trying to reach. Since the state testing system (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments – MCAs) was introduced, there have been questions and concerns about how often to assess students and what data is useful in helping to improve instruction and achievement. The tests we give to our students are meant to inform the students, teachers and parents on individual progress. The tests themselves and the combined data provided for each school is meaningful because they demonstrate individual student progress.    

Educational tests, if properly developed and implemented, can be marvelous tools to help teachers and students promote the kinds of knowledge and skills to be mastered. The MCAs provide this data annually. In addition, MCAs support student proficiency and preparedness regarding graduation requirements, post-secondary goals and academic growth over time. The growth measures inform us on how much improvement has taken place throughout the year based on where the student started. 

Two different types of tests provide essential data that support instruction:  those that measure individual student performance and proficiency against standards (MCAs and MAP), and those that compare relative performance among students at the same age or grade level (MAP, ACT, AP, IB – examples outlined below).  

As we enter this time of testing, we need to share information regarding the now statewide ACT (American College Test). The ACT will be given to all 11th grade students in the district on Tuesday, April 28. In order to provide the proper testing environment required by the College Board and ensure tests are valid for college entrance applications, students in grades 9, 10 and 12 will not report to school, but will have assignments to complete for their classes. This is a new requirement at the state level and allows every student the opportunity to take the ACT at no cost. 

Also, through the recent budget adjustment process, the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, which measure student academic growth in comparison to students across the country were proposed for a reduction. The outcome of the process included the MAP vendor providing a reduced cost for the 2015-16 school year. The test will be administered as it was during the current school year. 

Adding to some high school students testing schedule are Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) assessments. These courses are among the most rigorous in the district with exams that are administered in the spring of each academic year. In addition to receiving challenging academic opportunities, students who successfully participate in the course exams can be granted college credit to save on expenses, such as college tuition, or avoid introductory courses and move directly into more advanced courses, or to study in another country. 

If you are interested in more information about testing in the South Washington County School District, our testing calendar and a wealth of information around our assessments is available on the district website under academics-research, evaluation and assessment. 

To summarize, we utilize a variety of measurements to determine how well our students are doing. We find assessment information valuable, but are always working to balance how often and how many assessments are needed to help our students and parents fully understand their progress. Information is also used to help teachers adjust their instructional strategies to help all students succeed. 

I look forward to seeing the results of our MCA testing later in the summer. I am proud of our students and teachers and I am confident these measurements will validate their hard work and focus on enhanced thinking and learning. 

 Keith Jacobus is the superintendent of South Washington County Schools.