Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Manor Plays the State Assessment Game

     Today I attended our district's meeting to lock in details for how the state's new End of Course (EOC) exams will effect our students.  We met to discuss key issues concerning how we would convert the scale score to a grade and how (or if) these exams would effect the Grade Point Average (GPA) and Class Rank.

     Before I say anything further I want to say that I was very impressed with how we really attempted to interpret "suggestions" by the Texas Education Association (TEA) regarding these topics.  This was really made evident when we heard anecdotal accounts of what other districts in the area were considering for their answers to the same questions.

     What was frustrating, for all, was that fine line we kept treading between what is best for the district and what is best for our students.  We looked at how tests would be perceived by students.  How students AND parents would view the results of the tests.  And we discussed whether we needed to have the results effect class rank (which lead to thoughts of parental and district law suits over said results).

     The first item of business was to decide how we wanted to convert the state scale score to a graded score to be averaged into the student's grade.  This seems minor but in previous meetings we had, pretty much, decided to no longer award 0.5 credits for completion of each semester and just award 1.0 credit for completion of the entire year.  As for the grading score we had to start with a fictitious scale score because the state hasn't created one yet.  And, each test will have a sliding score along that scale for passing and failing.  By the end of the meeting we had agreed to a set score for the categories of  minimum, satisfactory, and advanced.  What we all agreed to not do is have a graduated scale but one set score for each of the  categories.

     What we ended the meeting with was discussing what the minimum score would be.  We never locked in a value but we are definitely willing to hold our students more accountable to the results of the test than other districts in the area.  One district, it is said, is considering having a score of 100 for a satisfactory score and a 70 for anything below that score.  So, no matter how their students do on the test, they will pass it.  Sign your name?  You passed.  Are you kidding me?  We never came to consensus but let's say we are willing to go below a 70 for scores below that mark on the state scale score.

     An interesting phenomenon occurred as we were in this discussion.  We, as educators, are willing to fight for the rights of those kids in "the danger zone," (just at passing going into the EOC) but we don't always think about how our top tier of students will do on these tests.   We were able to have some good thoughts on how these scores would effect GPA and Class Rank.  We came to consensus that the tests would be included in these two areas but we didn't just gloss it over.  We really took our time considering all of the angles.

     It is worth noting that a definite feel of affluent districts versus less-affluent districts came out of our discussions.  It really seemed to most of us that some districts are doing things in anticipation of lawsuits and are almost daring the state to create mandates that are worthy of bringing forth litigation.  Many of the other districts, like ours, are trying to give a good faith effort to impose changes that will reflect the intentions of the TEA.  We will be ready in January to present our decisions to the school board for their blessings and, come May, our students will have a system in place to convert their score on the EOC exams to a grade that will be averaged in with their other grades for the year in that subject.

     Once more I am pleasantly surprised at how our school district is able to come to consensus while letting all sides present opinions.  I think we can all agree that TEA really hasn't been able to think through with this albatross they've strung around our necks.  But we don't plan on drowning.  We're treading water and moving towards the high ground.