School system wants testing system waiver

Local educators say current tests concerning, problematic

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 10/6/16

Baldwin County’s Board of Education voted Tuesday night to apply for a special waiver from the Alabama Department of Education to opt out of using a testing mechanism officials say is not …

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School system wants testing system waiver

Local educators say current tests concerning, problematic


Baldwin County’s Board of Education voted Tuesday night to apply for a special waiver from the Alabama Department of Education to opt out of using a testing mechanism officials say is not accurately reflecting the learning happening in the classrooms.

Baldwin County Academic Dean Joyce Woodburn said the ASPIRE testing system the state is using for one of the components for its upcoming school report card has a number of issues school officials around the state are raising concerns about.

Woodburn used results gleaned from 2014-2015 ASPIRE test results to highlight the issues shown by only using achievement on test scores as a means of assessment for the state’s schools.

The percentage mastery for Baldwin County’s elementary and middle schools were as follows:

Orange Beach Elementary – 88 percent

Rockwell Elementary – 87 percent

Spanish Fort Elementary – 83 percent

Daphne East Elementary – 83 percent

Gulf Shores Elementary – 81 percent

Fairhope Intermediate – 79 percent

Spanish Fort Middle – 79 percent

Fairhope Middle – 77 percent

Fairhope Elementary – 75 percent

WJ Carroll Intermediate – 75 percent

Elsanor – 75 percent

Silverhill – 72 percent

J Larry Newton – 71 percent

Foley Intermediate – 70 percent

Foley Elementary – 69 percent

Daphne Middle – 69 percent

Daphne Elementary – 68 percent

Rosinton – 68 percent

Robertsdale Elementary – 67 percent

Delta Elementary – 67 percent

Elberta Middle – 67 percent

Stapleton – 67 percent

Central Baldwin Middle – 63 percent

Magnolia – 63 percent

Loxley Elementary – 63 percent

Pine Grove Elementary – 62 percent

Summerdale – 62 percent

Perdido Elementary – 61 percent

Swift Elementary – 59 percent

Bay Minette Intermediate – 59 percent

Gulf Shores Middle – 58 percent

Elberta Elementary – 58 percent

Foley Middle – 53 percent

Bay Minette Elementary – 52 percent

Bay Minette Middle – 48 percent

Woodburn cautioned board members that the percentiles and letter grades shown with the scores were not a true or accurate reflection of what is going on in Baldwin County’s classrooms, especially since the data was two years old.

“The point of this data was to show people what a report card with just testing achievement data would look like,” Woodburn said. “The state realized this would not be an accurate representation of what was going on in classrooms across the state, which is why they have continued to change the algorithm and data that will make up the upcoming report card scores.”

Woodburn added that the ASPIRE results also showed the weaknesses and problems inherent in that particular standardized test.

“ASPIRE is a high-stakes test, just like we did with No Child Left Behind,” Woodburn said. “We don’t get the data back from it until late summer, so teachers aren’t able to use the data in a real-time format. By the time they have the scores, the children they have applied to have already moved on to another grade or possibly another school. It’s not an effective method of assessment.”

Woodburn said the 2014-2015 data might seem shocking, but it really just goes to show how out of touch the results were with what is actually happening in the classrooms.

“I believe with all my heart that we are doing great things in our schools,” Woodburn said. “We have excellent teachers who are working hard to do their best. However, the data we’re being given is not reflecting that, so my thoughts about this are that the ASPIRE is not fully aligned like that say it is to College and Career Readiness Standards.”

Woodburn and Assistant Superintendent Hope Zeanah said the system’s schools had also been using Scantron based testing for the past two years as another means of assessment, and they felt that system better reflected the performance of Baldwin County’s students.

“Because the Scantron test is a formative test that is given at points throughout the school year, we can get baseline data on every child and develop learning targets throughout the year,” Woodburn said. “It gives our teachers a better opportunity to intervene when kids are not learning, to find ways to target instruction where it is needed.”

Zeanah said it could also be used for professional development to help teachers.

“If we see an area in the data where our teachers could use more help in teaching a specific standard or area, we can do professional development directly targeted to those needs,” Zeanah said.

Woodburn told the board that only one other school in Alabama had been granted a waiver, Florence City Schools.

“In that those two years using the Scantron performance series, all of their grade levels have gone up on test scores,” Woodburn said. “ACT scores have gone up as well, and the reason is because teachers are able to use the data to help kids remediate where they need it in a much more timely fashion. That’s exactly what we want for our kids.”

Board members expressed their frustrations with the report card system in general, as board member Tony Myrick said he had heard other officials from across the state give their thoughts at a recent conference.

“ASPIRE doesn’t allow teachers to do anything about the scores in real time,” Myrick said. “It was a loser to start with. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and if we don’t get away from it, we’ll be a failure because that’s what it seems like it was designed to do.”

Superintendent Eddie Tyler said he’d had conversations with other superintendents that had the same qualms.

“Superintendents across the state have voiced concerns about their systems’ data and results on the ASPIRE,” Tyler said. “They’re all saying the results don’t accurately reflect what we’re doing, and that ought to tell everyone something about how valid this test might be.”

The board members voted 6-1 to ask for the waiver, with David Cox voting against.

Woodburn said she was hopeful the state would respond quickly to the request and she would report back to the board when the system received their answer.

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