By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Significant changes in how state standardized science and writing tests are graded and evaluated will have Stillwater educators rethinking how they prepare students.
Stillwater’s Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test scores indicate sharp declines in fifth-grade and eighth-grade science, as well as sophomore biology. There were also significant declines in fifth- and eighth-grade writing.
For example, on the fifth-grade science test, 67 percent of the students passed, compared to 97 percent in 2012 and 94 percent in 2011. In eighth-grade writing, 73 percent of the students passed, compared to 92 percent in 2012 and 92 percent in 2011.
“We’re all for raising that bar for the kids,” said Becky Szlichta, director of secondary education and district testing coordinator for Stillwater Public Schools. “It’s nice to know in advance how the bar will be set. We did know how (the tests) would be scored, we just hadn’t had a trial run. Now we have.”
Szlichta said one of the reasons for the change in the writing test was to make it more representative of the kinds of evaluations that will come with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which become fully operational in the 2014-15 school year.
The new state standards put heavy emphasis on evidence-based writing in which a student is required to read a passage and write about that passage, citing evidence from the work and exhibiting comprehension of the passage as well as writing skills.
“That was very new to students,” Szlichta said. “They had practiced it before, but never received a score on it. And it was the first time for our teachers to have their students do it and receive a score from an outside scorer.”
Szlichta said teachers will evaluate the graded tests and devise lessons plans to address problem areas.
“Teachers will be getting information that will help them better prepare students for this coming year,” she said. “We will meet with the curriculum teams, the site principals and go over their testing data with them.
“They in turn will go over testing data with their teachers. They will be analyzing their students’ test data and trying to find out how they need to help out each student.”
Efforts are already under way to improve test scores. At Stillwater Middle School, a sixth-grade writing program has begun that focuses on narrative, persuasive and essay writing.
“We meet as administrators and talk about our plan for improving test scores, strategies we can use, things that we can be doing differently,” Stillwater Middle School Principal Cathy Walker said. “We come back and communicate with our data teams at the building level and then implement those strategies with the students in the classroom.”