District Hopes New Test Will Better Measure Student Progress

November 21, 2011

 OCEAN CITY — On Nov. 16, Gov. Chris Christie announced a new system for reviewing and rating school performance for the state’s annual report cards.

Nearly 600 school districts in New Jersey will be classified into three categories: the lowest performing schools will be “focus schools,” those in the middle will be considered “priority schools” and the highest performers will be classified as “reward schools.”

New Jersey is one of 11 states applying for a waiver from some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The new system is part of that application.

The system is aimed at targeting and concentrating on the lowest performers, replacing a system where schools were identified as low performing because too many students performed poorly on standardized tests. Christie has said he wants to move beyond students passing and failing and focus on delivering a quality education. The state’s focus is now on student growth, and pilot programs are ongoing throughout the state to devise better ways of measuring that growth.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Ocean City Board of Education the same day, newly hired Curriculum Director Rachel Iaconelli-Scheyer said the district is emphasizing student growth through a multi-prong approach.

The district is utilizing Measures of Academic Progress, state-aligned adaptive tests that are designed to accurately reflect the instructional level of each student and measure growth over time. The test is given in the fall to set an initial benchmark, in the winter as a progress monitoring tool and again in the spring to measure growth over the school year.

Before student growth became a focus of education in the state, growth was measured collectively, one class to the next. Students were compared as a cohort, a group. Tests were taken at the end of the school year and results arrived months later when the students were promoted to the next grade, learning with different classmates.

By establishing a yearly benchmark, setting goals and measuring growth throughout the year, Scheyer said students will benefit tremendously.

Student growth will be measured in math and reading. Scheyer said a pilot test was being designed for science.

“It’s extremely exciting for me to present this program,” said Scheyer, who said she utilized the test in the school district where she used to work.

Ocean City, she said, took it a step further by bringing in all of the stakeholders. Working with their classroom teachers, students establish goals. In grades fourth through eighth the student teacher, parent and Principal Geoff Haines signs off on to the student’s individual goals.

“We are piloting this at the intermediate school,” Scheyer said, adding that students set a target goal. “We encourage them to take responsibility. Everyone is a stakeholder.”

Test scores provide useful data, enabling teachers to recognize where to focus attention and how to provide instruction.

“The areas of strength and concern are highlighted,” she said.

The MAP program is “one point of data,” Scheyer said. Triangulating with classroom instruction and testing and annual state testing will help teachers and students better understand and measure how each student is progressing and how they compare to others. Each student is provided a RIT, shore for Rausch Unit, score, which is used for comparison.

The “triangle,” Scheyer said, was pictured on an iceberg because a lot of what makes each child unique is not seen at eye level. Various factors come into play beyond what transpires in the classroom.

“There are many factors that are not seen; we use the data we have,” she said.

Utilizing a number of measurements, she said, will help promote growth.

“The data is available within 24 hours,” she said.

The Ocean City school district is one of 10 districts statewide to be selected to participate in the Excellent Educators for New Jersey, an initiative to pilot a new teacher evaluation system.

Based on the recommendations of the New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force Report, released in March 2011, the new evaluation system will provide meaningful, actionable feedback to teachers and school leaders as they strive to help all students achieve success. Pilot districts will have the opportunity to help shape the new system from its inception and will provide critical information and guidance to the New Jersey Department of Education as the organization works toward state-wide implementation.

Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor said the EE4NJ initiative will provide an opportunity for Ocean City to have a “seat at the table” in crafting the new evaluation system.

Taylor said the MAP testing will be instrumental in helping teachers and other staff members access student growth as the school year progresses, providing opportunities to help students reach their goals.