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NCSS officials excited about Iowa Assessments

COVINGTON, Ga. - The Newton County School System (NCSS) uses two different assessment, or testing, systems to monitor individual student learning as well as teacher, class, school and system performance. They are the Georgia Milestones Assessment System and the Iowa Assessments.

The State of Georgia mandates that all public school districts use the Milestones. In late July, the NCSS released preliminary Milestones scores from testing conducted in 2016-2017. The Covington News reported a summary of those scores.

The July scores are considered preliminary for two reasons. First, they included scores of students who were not enrolled in an NCSS school for the full academic year. Second, they were not adjusted to reflect retest scores for some grades three, five, and eight students. The final results will come late fall.

The NCSS also chooses to use the Iowa Assessments. Relative to the Milestones system, the NCSS finds that the Iowa Assessments provide timelier and more useful information. Jordan and Samantha Fuhrey, superintendent, recently expressed excitement about this testing system, its usefulness, and what the 2016-2017 results reveal about student learning.

Iowa Assessments tests are administered twice each year to grade one through eight students. One test is given in August to judge what students know at the beginning of the academic year. The second is given in May to judge what they know at the end of the year. The difference between the two scores can be used to measure students’ progress, that is, how much they have learned during the year.

Iowa Assessments results are available within one or two days after testing.

The results for individual students are reported as national percentile ranks (NPR). That means students’ scores are compared with the scores of similarly aged students across the nation who took the same test. “Given our global economy, I want to prepare kids to compete against the nation,” Fuhrey said. “Not every student in our school system will live in Georgia.”

The NPR for all students in a class or grade can be averaged to produce an NPR average for the entire group.

A comparison of the 2016-2017 NPR averages for all students in each NCSS grade revealed that every grade showed progress. All grade one through eight students were tested in English language arts and mathematics. Grade five and eight students were additionally tested in social studies and science.

The average increase in NPR average across all eight grades and all tests was 6.3. The range in progress varied from 1 (grade six mathematics NPR averages went from 34 in the fall to 35 in the spring) to 17 (grade two mathematics NPR averages increased from 28 to 45).

But perhaps the most valuable information derived from the Iowa Assessments is what it reveals about the strengths, weaknesses, and progress of individual students and individual teachers.

Results reveal to each student, as well as his or her parents and teachers, how he or she stacks up relative to similar aged students across the nation in reading, written expression, conventions of writing, vocabulary, mathematics, and computation. Students in grade five and eight also receive information about how they stack up in social science and science.

Furthermore, within each of these “domains,” the tests provide more detailed information. For example, within the written expression domain, students can see how they did in usage and grammar, sentence structure, planning and organization, appropriate expression, essential competencies, conceptual understanding, and extended reasoning.

How is all that helpful? Suppose that in the fall, an individual student does well on written expression, but demonstrates weakness in one of the sub-areas, such as sentence structure. That information allows teachers and parents to craft learning activities designed to improve that specific weakness.

After that same student is retested in the spring, a comparison can be made of her or his fall and spring scores to see if those learning activities succeeded or if the student needs additional work and help.

When scores are averaged across all students in a particular teacher’s class, that teacher can similarly gauge the strengths and weaknesses of that group of students and design curriculum and pedagogy to build on their strengths and repair their weaknesses. By comparing fall and spring class averages, teachers then can make an informed judgment about whether or not it worked. This allows teachers and their supervisors to better understand the impact of the teacher’s work and to make needed improvements.

One new finding from the 2016-2017 Iowa Assessments results that is particularly exciting to Fuhrey and Jordan is that performance on the Iowa Assessments tests have now been shown to tightly correlate with and can be used to predict proficiency on the Milestones. That means teachers and administrators can look at students’ fall Iowa Assessments NPR’s and predict how they will perform on the Milestones tests unless progress is made prior to taking the Milestones test after spring break.

“We are the only school district in Georgia with an assessment that is valid, reliable, and strongly correlated with Milestones,” Jordan said. “Having this, I cannot wait to see what this year’s results looks like.”