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State schools prepare for accountability testing

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

Local schools were having fun last week because things get serious starting Monday — it’s time for the dreaded accountability testing.

Alabama schools have two weeks to get at least 95 percent of their students in grades 3-8 tested in the Alabama Reading and Math Test and Stanford Achievement Test — 10th edition.

They took the Alabama Writing Assessment in February. High schools give the graduation exam several times a year.

In this age of the federal No Child Left Behind law, educators know that careers and school reputations depend on these standardized tests.

Last year, for the first time, every elementary and middle school in The Decatur Daily’s coverage area made Adequate Yearly Progress.

The state uses this measure to ensure that schools are making improvements in reading and math.

Union Hill School Principal Jeremy Childers said he tries to take a relaxed approach toward testing but conceded that’s
an easy thing to do when his school usually does well on the tests.

He said pressure then becomes competitive pride as he wants to finish among the best in Morgan County.

“Most of our pressure is self-inflicted because we want to make sure we’re on the top of our game and we’re not outdone by the other schools,” Childers said.

Different viewpoint

Somerville Road Elementary in Decatur sees the testing from a different viewpoint. After years of struggling to get off probation for low test scores, the Southeast Decatur school finally tested in the clear last year, making AYP.

“Our pressure now is to make AYP again,” Principal Dee Dee Jones said.

Decatur Assistant Superintendent Ed Nichols adds that the state requires more students improve their scores, which makes it more difficult to make AYP.

Pacing guides

The school system developed Pacing guides, which details the reading, language and math curriculum the teacher should follow.

The teachers then give Pacing tests five times a year to ensure that the students make academic progress.

After focusing in recent years only on the state’s ARMT used for accountability, Decatur put a renewed emphasis on the SAT-10, a standardized test that allows comparisons across the nation.

With the city trying to recruit Base Realignment and Closure newcomers, some city leaders criticized the school system for scores lower than surrounding communities and about equal to the national average.

Nichols said the central office supplied schools with materials to help them prepare for the SAT-10.

“The SAT-10 is something that people do look at,” Nichols said.

“And we as a school system do want to be competitive with our neighbors even though every system has a different student makeup.”

Along with the academic issues, one main issue schools face is that these accountability tests are not part of student progress.

As an emphasis on how important the tests are, the schools try various ways to encourage students.

Teacher Olympics

Union Hill had a teacher Olympics on Friday. They raced stick horses and scooter, had a Hula-Hoop competition and competed in several other activities that made the students laugh.

Leon Sheffield Elementary held dress-up days last week like “The future’s so bright, we got to wear shades”; “Hats Off to Success” day (everyone wears a hat) and “Complete Turn Around” day (wearing clothes backward).

Brookhaven Middle School and Somerville Road each held pep rallies on Friday.

Rewards

Jones said she’s also offering rewards for students if they’re on time and try hard on the test this week.

As proof that rewards work, Jones said her 67 fifth-graders are going to Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park in Rossville, Ga., in May because they met her requirements when they took the writing assessment.

Childers said his test scores have been rising since they began offering incentives about five years ago.

“This particularly helps us with the students in the fifth through eighth grades,” Childers said.

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