February 11, 2011

Warwick NECAP Scores Up: Amazing What a Little Incentive Can Do

Marc Comtois

Warwick schools were pretty happy with the latest NECAP results, which showed improvement nearly across the board. From the Beacon

As for the improvements at the high school level where students were told for a first time that they would need to be proficient to graduate, [Warwick School Board Chair Bethany] Furtado concludes, “Students are taking it seriously. Kids need to know that that’s [school] their job. They need to do well in school.”

Principals at all three high schools agreed with Furtado, saying the fact that students took the test seriously because it counted toward their graduation eligibility was one of the major factors for improved scores.

“There was more motivation for the students to do well this time around because they understood that the scores would have an impact on graduation,” said Vets Principal Gerry Habershaw.

Habershaw said it wasn’t only the students that approached the test with a more serious attitude.

After the teachers saw what happened in Central Falls, they took the NECAP preparation more seriously,” Habershaw said. “I also rearranged the way we did advisory periods because it had become a joke. So every Thursday, during advisory, teachers would submit a NECAP practice test so the students could get used to it.”

...“I’m very, very pleased with those results,” said Pilgrim Principal Dennis Mullen. “This was the first year that students were held accountable and they knew that it really mattered, but from a school and teacher perspective, we did a great deal of professional development.” {emphasis added}

Real consequences tied to failure helped get positive results. Imagine that. They also embraced the teacher development required to get results.
Mullen said writing was emphasized throughout the curriculum at Pilgrim by having each department create writing prompts for the students to perform constructed responses, which was an area the school had fallen down on in the past. He said each department chose a different prompt, such as persuasive writing, reflective writing, or responding to information from a text, in order to ensure that students were exposed to all prompts before taking the test.

...Mullen said one of the programs to improve math scores has already been implemented in all three high schools, which allows eighth grade students who are entering ninth grade that scored below proficient in math on the NECAP test to ramp up their math skills before taking Algebra 1, which will be implemented at all levels in ninth grade.

“We’ve aligned our curriculum to state standards and our expectations remain high,” Mullen said. “I’m very pleased with where we are, but I’m never satisfied.”

Good job and good attitude. Keep it up.

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"Kids need to know that that’s [school] their job. They need to do well in school."

What a revelation! If only someone had thought to tell kids that before. Sorry to interrupt the high fiving, but I wouldn't be so quick to claim you've solved this one. My guess, we've improved students ability to take NECAP tests as if test taking were the ultimate goal of education)...

See Campbell's Law...

"...achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways."

Posted by: Russ at February 11, 2011 1:28 PM

Clearly the answer isn't teacher motivation, because we've been told that when the scores are down it's not the teachers' fault, it's the parents'. So clearly the parents in Warwick got better this year.

Yay Warwick parents!

Posted by: Patrick at February 11, 2011 1:39 PM

I realize the comment was tongue in cheek, but he's on to something. I suppose the Warwick parents just didn't know how important education was to their children until the standardized tests were added to the graduation requirements. Problem solved! No further poof required (serious, no proof forthcoming so please don't require any).

Posted by: Russ at February 11, 2011 1:53 PM

My 5th grader gets her results today. Let's see if a whooping or a trip to Friendly's is in order.

Posted by: Bob at February 11, 2011 1:54 PM

So Russ, we're in agreement, better education is because of parents? So then is there still a need to pay teachers $75,000 a year if the key is really with the parents? Why not pay teachers $30,000 a year and spend the remaining $45,000 on teaching parents how to be better parents of students?

Posted by: Patrick at February 11, 2011 3:16 PM

Better education is the result of process. Parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers all have an impact. NECAP scores don't matter. The only thing that matters is by what method.

Ever wonder why private schools don't use standardized tests if they are so wonderful at producing results?

“At worst, schools have become little more than test-prep factories,” says Robert Schaeffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group critical of standardized tests. “Entire curriculums are wrapped around test prep, narrowing the curriculum.”

And, he says, the children who most need a rich education — those who are poor, urban or English language learners — often get little more than “a thin gruel” of test preparation in their classes, a far cry from the intellectually stimulating coursework offered by private schools, which do very little standardized testing.

Posted by: Russ at February 11, 2011 5:33 PM

Russ - you hit the nail on the head. Education is, in fact, a process requiring the collabortion of multiple stakeholders. Parents, teachers, administrators, universites and colleges that prepare teachers, and community groups should be working together to support children in their development as productive individuals. One group cannot be soley responsible for the educational process; it just won't work. As someone who spent nearly a decade as a public school teacher and the past four years preparing teachers at the university level, I believe I can speak with some degree of authority on this matter. As for standardized tests, I am not adverse to the use of tests as ONE measure of student learning but I do have a problem with using such tests as the ONLY measure. Not every student performs well on standardized tests and some students, such as English language learners or students with disabilities, may not be able to fully demonstrate their learning through such measures. I believe in triangulation of data to judge progress. Sure, look at test scores, but also look at portfolios of student work and teachers' formative classroom assessments of what students can do. If a student does poorly on NECAP, then there ought to be an investigation into why the student did poorly. Is the student still in the process of learning English? How did s/he do on the ACCESS for ELLs English proficiency test (which is leveled according English language proficiency)? What can the ESL teacher tell you about the student's progress? Has the student had experience with standardized tests in the native country? Perhaps the student is a native English speaker with severe test anxiety. What does this student's classwork tell us? Might the student benefit from working with a counselor at the school to learn ways to productively tackle test anxiety?

Students will have to take standardized tests throughout their educational careers - all the way up to the GREs, LSATs, or MCATs if they intend to go to graduate or professional school. It is helpful for students to learn to be successful on such exams but they should not be used as the sole barometer of student learning.

Posted by: Tabetha at February 11, 2011 7:19 PM
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