Birmingham: Article #6 - Pro-SATs- Argh!
- Subject: Birmingham: Article #6 - Pro-SATs- Argh!
- From: Anne Nonniemouse <ShopMathEdu@AOL.COM>
- Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2000 20:45:29 EDT
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
Testing the system
Local schools find out scores, fate Thursday
By CINDY FISHER
On Thursday, scores will be released for one of the most important tests
given in Alabama public schools: the Stanford Achievement Test.
If scores on the national standardized test don't show students are learning,
schools could be taken over by state officials.
Testing in Alabama
Students in Alabama have taken standardized tests for more than 30 years. But
the number of tests students have had to take in their school career has
varied. Since 1995, students have taken more standardized tests than ever
before. Here is a timeline on the tests taken by Alabama's students:
1960s — California Achievement Test was put into place in grades four, eight
1977 — State Board of Education decides to develop a graduation exam
1978 — Basic competency test is put into use for third, sixth and ninth grades
1985 — High school graduation exam, testing at a sixth-grade level, is
required for diploma. And the Stanford Achievement Test is first given in
grades one, two, four, five, seven, eight and 10
1990 — A new version of the Stanford test is implemented
1993 — Students have to pass a harder, eighth-grade level graduation exam
1995 — Legislature mandates testing of the Stanford in grades three through
11. Accountability measures set placing schools on academic alert, caution or
clear based on Stanford scores. Lawmakers request the development of a harder
1996 — New and most current version of the Stanford is used
1999 — High school juniors and sophomores take the practice version of the
new, more difficult graduation exam that tests at an 11th-grade level
2000 — Juniors have to pass the language and reading portions of the harder
graduation exam. And the Legislature passes a law that ends Stanford testing
in grades 10 and 11. The same law allows the state school board to change
what grades the Stanford test is given
2001 — Juniors have to pass four sections of the harder graduation exam:
math, science, reading and language
2001 — A new version of the Stanford is expected to be used
Source: Alabama Department of Education
Because of those expectations, many administrators are feeling the pressure
to boost scores on the Stanford. Some have adjusted curriculum to match
what's covered on the test. Others in Birmingham have been accused of
cheating by suspending low-scoring students in the months before the test was
given — an allegation that has been vehemently denied.
In the test's 15th year in use in Alabama, many state educators say the
original goals for the Stanford have been achieved: Scores are higher, many
low-performing schools have improved and the scores have allowed teachers to
track students' strengths and weaknesses.
But critics of the Stanford say the state has gone too far in its usage,
creating a testing monster.
"The Stanford has taken on a life of its own," said John Dolly, dean of
education at the University of Alabama. "We're tying everything to test
Many say the state Legislature is to blame for creating a testing mania. In
1995, the Legislature passed a law — against educators' wishes — that
increased how many grades took the Stanford test. Before, students in the
fourth and eighth grades took the Stanford. The law changed the testing
schedule to include students in third through 11th grades.
The 1995 law also established accountability measures that hinge on the
Stanford scores. Schools are ranked on three academic levels: clear, caution
and alert, with the state taking over alert schools if scores do not improve
the next year.
Lawmakers defend the law by saying it was intended to make sure students were
learning in all grades, not just a few.
But critics say it has caused a testing overkill, especially since schools'
status with the state depends so heavily on the performance of one test.
Some say scores on the Stanford are not fairly comparing students to others
in the nation because of the countless hours students are spending studying
and practicing for the Stanford.
"Students are performing better on the tests because they take the same test
year after year and the teachers know what's on it," said Jim McLean,
director of the Center for Education Accountability at the University of
Alabama at Birmingham.
This spring, the Legislature made a surprise turn in its testing drive by
passing a law that ends Stanford testing in 10th and 11th grades. Ending the
tests in those grades will save the state $130,000 annually, said Gloria
Turner, director of student assessment for the state Department of Education.
The extra time in the 10th and 11th grades can then be spent preparing for
the harder graduation exam, the law states. The law does not go into effect
until the 2001-2002 school year.
Educators are thrilled about the new law, said Sally Howell, director of
research and special projects for the Alabama Association of School Boards in
"This gets us back to where we were," Howell said. "We went full circle."
High school students no longer cared about performing well on the Stanford
because it does not affect their grades, she said. Plus, students taking both
the Stanford and the graduation exam were losing two weeks of classes to take
those tests, she said.
It is a relief for the students, Howell said, but the best part about the law
is that it ends the Legislature's deadlock on education and gives the state
Board of Education the ability to revise the current testing schedule.
"The state Department of Education hasn't had much say about what tests are
used," McLean said. "The Legislature has been deciding for them. ... The new
law will give the ultimate control back to the educators."
The state school board has hired an organization to analyze the Stanford's
usage in Alabama, said Ethel Hall, state board of education member.
Hall said she would like for the Stanfords to be given in alternating grades
from the third to ninth grades, not every grade as it is now.
The results of the analysis should be made by next February, said Joe Morton,
deputy superintendent for the state.
Hall said the state board will look at using other tests added with the
Stanford to hold schools accountable. Statewide writing exams in the fifth
and seventh grades could be added. Or the state could add students'
attendance and parent involvement to the scoring of schools, she said.
"It takes looking at a lot of things to rate schools and how they are doing,"
Hall said. "There is evidence that where parents are involved, children do
While Stanfords are still the only measure of school performance, the state
Legislature has approved a bill that gives monetary incentives to schools
that improve significantly on the Stanford. Schools could get between $2,000
and $5,000 in next year's budget, depending on improvements on the Stanford
Since the first year accountability measures went into effect for the
Stanford in 1996, 150 schools have gone from academic alert or caution to
clear. That is one sign that the Stanford has helped push for better school
performance, Morton said.
"It's captivated the attention of just about every educator in this state,
which is a good thing," Morton said. "But it hasn't come about without some
anguish or pain. ... In the long run, it has helped."
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