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Posted at 2:18 PM ET, 07/28/2009

Better Teaching, Better Test Scores

By Stephen Stromberg

By James E. Cole
Gainesville

I am a longtime math teacher in the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) system, and I take issue with a recent article "Testing Tactics Helped Fuel D.C. School Gains." The article contended that this year's impressive increases in Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS) proficiency rates across the board are not merely the result of better teaching but of a gaming of the exam. Such an implication shortchanges the dramatic gains the D.C. school system has made over the past two years. Let's set the record straight.

The article said:

-- That schools used "intensive" test preparation: So what? The CAS exam asks questions that cover subject material outlined in DCPS's Learning Standards; in other words, material teachers are already covering. There's nothing wrong with preparing students for standardized tests by reviewing such material and by following a tried-and-true concept: practice, practice, practice.

-- That the "Saturday Scholars" program doesn't teach the right students: The article quoted "Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform," a group that criticizes the successful program because the program doesn't attract the "thousands of children who . . . are several grade levels behind in reading and math and have little if any chance without serious intervention of scoring proficient on the DC-CAS."

The Saturday Scholars program provides much-needed help to students who scored slightly below proficient on the CAS. The program has raised the test scores of many students from failing to proficient. While the concern that low-performance students make up only a small percentage of the program's students is valid, the Saturday Scholars program has been open to all students, not just those who were close to passing the CAS. The students not included in the program were free to participate.

-- That DCPS redefined a failing test score: As a statistician, I know how to manipulate data to prove a point. Previously, students who were required to take the CAS but did not were recorded as having failed the test. That skewed the test results. Omitting the students who do not take the CAS, as is now done, is more than fair, and it's statistically correct.

-- That D.C. students and teachers are now "accustomed to the test": The fact that in the first year of administering a standardized test scores will be low and that scores improve "significantly" in the following few years is more a result of the teachers and the administration at the schools becoming more accustomed to the nuances of the test. It is the manner in which the teachers prepare their students for these tests that boosts student success over the years, not that that the students have taken the tests more than once.

The test scores of DCPS students still compare poorly to the scores of many nearby school systems, and they are below where they need to be. But student scores are up significantly this year, an outstanding accomplishment for everyone involved -- and something The Post should recognize.

By Stephen Stromberg  | July 28, 2009; 2:18 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., schools  
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Comments

Great to hear a DCPS teacher weigh in on this. I love this quote in particular: **That schools used "intensive" test preparation: So what? The CAS exam asks questions that cover subject material outlined in DCPS's Learning Standards; in other words, material teachers are already covering. There's nothing wrong with preparing students for standardized tests by reviewing such material and by following a tried-and-true concept: practice, practice, practice.**

Exactly! If the standard says "all 8th graders should know how to simplify an expression," what's wrong with teachers preparing their students to answer those questions? There is no "trick" that allows students to get the answer right without knowing the math. If teachers were coaching their students for the CAS, then teachers were TEACHING what students need to know. Period.

Posted by: cbdc08 | July 30, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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