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Another Voice: State assessment tests provide valuable information

By Kimberly Moritz

The public schools in Randolph, Cattaraugus County, are making great progress. Out of the 97 school districts in Western New York, we are now ranked 50, according to an independent analysis by Business First. That’s an improvement from 69 out of 97 just three years ago. We know our job is far from finished, but we take great pride in the fact that more of our students are gaining the skills and knowledge necessary for future success.

This growth didn’t happen by chance. Five years ago, our district adopted higher expectations for all students and developed a coherent Common Core-aligned curriculum for our schools. Thanks to the dedication of our outstanding teachers and school leaders, we are where we are today.

Our improvement, in part, is rooted in our ability to make instructional decisions based on our students’ needs. The results of annual state assessments for students in grades three through eight help us to do this work.

The State Education Department will release this year’s state test results on July 1. That gives teachers and administrators more than eight weeks to work together to plan our curriculum before the new school year starts.

However, I continue to read and hear that the state assessments are “shrouded in secrecy” and provide no usable data for educators. I’ve heard people say that the tests don’t give teachers any information about how their students did so the tests in no way can be used to make instructional decisions. Some claim that we can’t see which questions kids got right and which ones they missed.

This is untrue. We do know.

When we get the results, our educators in Randolph will take a close look at which learning standards the majority of our students missed and talk about what it means for the 2015-16 school year. Grade level teams will identify areas of strength and examine any gaps in learning.

When we received last year’s state assessment results on Aug. 14, we shared the raw data with our teachers and, along with what they knew from other data, they planned for the 2014-15 school year. This was valuable for our educators – and it will be again this year.

The State Education Department gives districts access to information about how their students did on the tests, how they did compared to other students across the state by question and what standard each question measured.

In the coming weeks, we must continue to talk about the value of the assessments and how to use the results to make instructional decisions. The information available from the tests is directly tied to what we’re teaching in our classrooms. It’s valuable for us to know what our students do and do not know. After all, it is the central reason why we test our students in the first place.

Kimberly Moritz is superintendent of the Randolph Central School District.