School districts apply grain of salt to state test results

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

The release of the results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Results test on Tuesday showed Albert Lea schools to be below the state averages for the test, but it also showed a few other area districts to be higher than the state average.

But school officials at both Albert Lea and New Richland-Hartland-Emmons-Geneva districts say that these tests are not a great measure of a student’s abilities.

&uot;The thing about this test is if you get a certain score one year, they want a better score the next,&uot; said Dave Prescott, superintendent of Albert Lea schools. &uot;It totally disregards the makeup of the classes.&uot;

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Albert Lea schools did not fare well on the tests, recording scores somewhat lower than the state average in all categories. NRHEG tested well above the state average in all categories and has done so for the past four years.

Albert Lea scored 1441.29 and 1457.2, respectively, for reading and math for third grade, whereas statewide those averages were 1486.2 and 1486. Differences were about the same for the fifth-grade results.

NRHEG scored 1544.4 and 1526.3, respectively, in reading and math. The fifth graders also scored well.

But Prescott said the annual tests do not give a fair assessment to students.

&uot;It is impossible to dis-aggregate the information to really understand if things are really going as they should,&uot; said Prescott.

He argued that people need to understand that test scores can’t really show how a student performs, pointing out that some are better test takers and some are better with assigned work.

&uot;You can’t substantiate real life with only numbers,&uot; he said. &uot;So how can we expect to do the same for students?&uot;

Paul Sparby, principal of NRHEG elementary school, said he thinks the tests are not as telling as people would like them to be.

&uot;These tests only give a snapshot of a student,&uot; he said. &uot;There are so many day-to-day and personal factors that go into test taking that you can’t judge a student by one test.&uot;

Sparby did say, though, that over longer periods, the tests are more valuable. &uot;These are much more accurate over four or five years. They do end up giving you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses in that aspect,&uot; he said.

Prescott said while he does not think tests are always a good ruler for student progress, he said he supports testing because it is one of the only measuring devices available to get statewide statistics.

He added, though, that he feels an emphasis on testing may result in negative changes in education.

&uot;What ends up happening is that what gets measured gets worked on,&uot; he said. Tests, he feels, can encourage focusing on some areas and pushing aside others.

Many politicians have pushed for more frequent testing as a measure of a district’s responsibility with their funding and what they are doing with it. The Associated Press reported that New York City school superintendents will now be given pay raises if test scores rise significantly.

The future of how testing may affect Minnesota schools and districts is uncertain, but Prescott hopes that people will understand that numbers can’t account for everything.

&uot;People are searching for ways to see that districts are using funds wisely, but I think tests can’t be the only way to do that,&uot; he said.