Elementary schools choose tests

BY SABINE PETERKA —

With students taking standardized tests on computers and an increased demand for technology use in education, Atwater and Lake Bluff look to balance the many uses of their computers.

Starting in third grade, elementary students take the state-mandated Forward exam at the end of the school year and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test three times throughout the year. Both tests are taken on a computer.

“Assessment is part of instruction because in order to know what to teach, you need to know what your students know and what they’re learning,” said Eric Norland, Lake Bluff principal.

Norland said that the Forward exam is a summative assessment, meaning it evaluates what a student learned after a set amount of time, whereas the MAP test is a formative assessment.

“The idea is that formative assessment is for the purposes of guiding instruction and being responsive in instruction,” Norland said. “Formative assessment in particular is a very important practice that we need to refine and build on and continue to do and get better at.”

According to Kayla Russick, Atwater principal, the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests has increased since students started taking the MAP test but the time on state tests (like the Forward exam) has not increased.

“When you look at the whole school year, it’s not a big chunk of time [spent testing],” Russick said. However, Vashti Lozier, Lake Bluff PTO co-president, said that parents have expressed concern about testing.

“I think there is a lot of concern among parents. I do hear it a lot; it comes up at PTO meetings; it comes up in casual conversations,” Lozier said. According to Lozier, parents can opt their child out of testing.

IMG_0690
(Ben Davis) EduTyping teaches students to use keyboards efficiently and accurately. The elementary schools have booked their computer labs for standardized testing, limiting the students’ time to type.

Most testing takes place in the computer labs, preventing teachers from using them for lessons, such as research or typing, during that time.

“It’s not like the MAP test replaces our instructional time of typing, but the access to be able to have our scheduled computer lab times may interfere with some of the small periods of the school year that there is testing,” said Amber Serath, Atwater second grade teacher. “That said, we also would have the option, if you don’t have your computer time, to be able to check out one of the other Chromebook carts and be able to replace that time.”

“One of the biggest impacts [of the testing] is just time away from educational learning time. When you’re testing, you’re not moving forward in math and language arts and in your other areas,” Lozier said. “The other piece is the computer lab being used for that huge amount of time. My understanding is that computer lab is pretty much unavailable the last couple weeks and through the end of the school year with the MAP testing.”

One essential skill students need computers to learn is typing. After bringing it in as a pilot program last year, Atwater and Lake Bluff use a typing program called Edu Typing. Previously, there had not been a guideline for a curriculum regarding typing.

“We wanted our students to be able to have that measurement be of not their computer skills, their keyboarding skills, but of their math and reading and science and social studies skills,” Russick said.

Edu Typing is a web-based program, allowing students to access it at school and at home. Even if the computer lab is being used for testing, students can practice typing on a laptop or outside of school.

“In the last few years especially, we’ve really expanded our technology throughout the school. So while sometimes our standardized testing, such as MAP or the Forward exam, does take the computer lab or does take some sources of our technology, there’s a lot of technology to go around. So the computer lab isn’t the only place or the only time that they can practice on Edu Typing,” Serath said.

Norland said the schools are trying to accommodate for the need for technology.

“I think that one of the themes that has arisen from the community and from within the schools is that we want to continue to build on and develop our technology resources,” Norland said. “There’s always new technologies, the technologies are powerful in terms of their educational applications and I think that we want to continue to employ more and more.”

Lozier said that while expeditionary learning incorporates technology, it might not be evaluated well by conventional standardized tests.

“I think the question the administration needs to grapple with is what kind of information are we getting from the tests? How valuable is the information we’re getting from this test versus the benefits we’re getting from them? Is it worth the time that we’re losing – classroom instructional time, computer lab time – for this testing? And the answer might be yes but the answer might be no and I think that’s really something to look at,” Lozier said.

Read our Issue 9 editorial on the topic here.

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