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Class During Covid: The “Covid-slide” in standardized test scores

The pandemic has disrupted the entire education system and that includes standardized tests. NBC15′s Amy Pflugshaupt explores what’s the right answer when trying to measure student success.
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 6:00 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2021 at 10:36 PM CST
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Sun Prairie, Wis. (WMTV) - The pandemic has disrupted the entire education system. That also includes standardized tests. This creates a problem as these tests are designed to measure student achievement and it holds educators accountable. NBC15′s Amy Pflugshaupt checked in with Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie to find out the pandemic’s impact on the way tests are administered, scored and how those scores translate into student success.

Looking back on the last four months, seventh grade teacher, Doug Maughan said things have gotten more fluid when it comes to navigating a virtual education. It’s something he attributes to the determination of teachers and students.

Are students behind?

He believes it’s just like a normal year.

“The kids that are all in and the kids that are willing to come and work and work to the best of their ability are cruising right along like they would in a traditional year,” said Maughan. “The kids that are struggling, we’ve spent a lot of our time reaching out to [them]. “Hey you missed Zoom today. Can I get you caught up?””

Getting caught up was something everyone had to do this fall. It was tough, because schools switched to online learning so abruptly, many missed the standardized tests that help teacher gauge where students are excelling and where they could use some help.

“Basically, 90% of kids take a bit of a summer-slide,” said Maughan.

This year though, he felt more experienced what he called a “summer/spring COVID-slide”

Measuring Student Success

That slide was made obvious during the first round of testing this fall with the Renaissance STAR Assessment. It’s given three times a year: September, January and May. It’s a computer-adaptive test that measures reading, math and literacy.

Maughan said it consists of a series of questions that students can answer on their Chromebooks.

“As they are working on that, if you get a question wrong the test gets a little easier. If you get it right, it gets a little more difficult,” said Maughan.

He said it goes back and forth until it pinpoints where that student is academically. Because it’s done online, results are usually available with in about 24 hours.

Maughan said many students had lower than normal scores in the fall. It’s something he attributes to students trying to learn to navigate virtual learning and the stress of COVID. However, scores did rebound this winter for many students. He believed that was due to the fact that students are getting more comfortable with learning from home and taking tests that way too.

This is an example as to what results from the STAR exam look like.  It shows the progress of...
This is an example as to what results from the STAR exam look like. It shows the progress of an anonymous student. There is a dip for the fall 2020 exam and a rebound for the winter 2021 exam.(Doug Maughan)

While these are good data points to have, Maughan said standardized tests - especially for middle school students - are just a snapshot of that kid on that day.

“I would say what we do in class is a much better indicator of where [students] are,” said Maughan. “But what we do look at: Do kids need an intervention? If they are trending downward? Or if there are some major hiccups in their academic career?”

In addition to the STAR exam, Sun Prairie Middle School students also take the statewide Forward Exam.

Requirements from the state

NBC15 reached out to the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction to see what guidance it is offering districts since many like Sun Prairie are virtual at the moment.

Both state and federal law require the administration of statewide assessments in 2020-21. At this time, there has been no change in testing requirements. As a result, schools should plan to meet these requirements, including for students who are receiving instruction remotely.

Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction

DPI said statewide assessments include:

-ACCESS for ELLs for all English Learners in grades K-12

-Forward Exam for students in grades 3-8, and 10

-DLM assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities in grades 3-11

-Aspire assessment for grades 9 & 10

-ACT assessment for grade 11

*Please see the calendar website for the specific assessment administration dates.

“DPI has shared a Strategies and Considerations for In-Person Assessment During a Pandemic resource, which provides considerations for district and school leaders to plan and safely administer assessments this spring.”

DPI also clarified how the test scores are used:

Under state and federal law test scores are used to inform accountability systems, which include additional data beyond test scores. Under state law schools and districts are ultimately assigned a rating and under federal law the state identifies the lowest performing public schools and schools with low performing student groups in each state.

Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction

For parents and community members interested in how a particular school and district rank in performance and other accountability indicators:

State accountability report cards

WISEdash Public data portal

DPI Office of Educational Accountability website

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