Forecasting and Managing Student Achievement on High-Stakes Tests

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How will your students perform on their state assessment this year? What if, today, you could glimpse students' performances on test day? What would you do differently between now and then to improve learning and raise achievement for each student? As more and more states attach high stakes to their assessments, those questions become increasingly important to teachers and administrators eager to help their students and schools succeed in today's accountability-driven environment.

The Debate Over High-Stakes Tests

The standards and accountability movement continues to gain momentum across the nation. Today, nearly every state in the nation has set academic standards. All 50 states test students to measure how well they're learning. Testing also forms a cornerstone of President George W. Bush's education agenda.

Increasingly, teachers and administrators are held accountable for test results through published test scores, school ratings, school report cards and the tying of school funding to performance. Students, too, are held accountable as many must pass high-stakes tests to be promoted to the next grade level, earn course credit and graduate. At the heart of this movement lies a central goal: to improve student achievement. While everyone supports this goal, not everyone agrees on the best way to assess achievement, particularly when it comes to high-stakes tests.

Supporters of high-stakes testing say that it can be a powerful tool to change classroom and school practices for the better. They assert that the tests provide a clear, unbiased view of student performance from school to school, year to year. They also believe that achievement data from the tests provide educators with valuable diagnostic information to improve classroom practices and student learning. In addition, they contend that setting high expectations - holding all students accountable to the same standards - leads to achievement gains.

Conversely, opponents argue that no single assessment should hold so much weight. They say that high-stakes tests force teachers to narrow the focus of their curriculum to concentrate on what is tested, to the detriment of other topics. They contend that too much class time is spent on test preparation, and that emphasis on the test reduces room for the teachers' creativity and the students' enjoyment of learning. In addition, they assert that many tests do not adequately match state standards and are not an accurate reflection of student learning.

Both sides of the debate present valid points. While the debate rages on, however, schools must continue demonstrating achievement gains.

The Correlation Between Student Progress and Performance

As educators strive to show significant gains each year for their schools, they seek more from their print and electronic curriculum products. Many companies that provide curriculum products publish correlations that show the relationship between their curriculum and the relevant standards or tests. For the past few years that feature has been an important consideration in districts' purchasing decisions. Today, however, from the district's perspective it is only part of the solution.

To meet rigorous accountability requirements, educators need to see more than just a mapping of curriculum content to state standards. They need to see student progress through the curriculum as it pertains to performance on standardized tests - and they need to see it in real time, not months later. To help educators continually forecast and manage student achievement on high-stakes tests, NCS Learn has introduced its High Stakes Management solution.

The High Stakes Management solution is a new suite of tools and services based on research that has established a quantifiable relationship between students' performances in NCS Learn's SuccessMaker courseware, and their performances on standardized tests and state assessments. The result: Educators can now see forecasts of the time students need to reach a specific SuccessMaker course level and see the relationship of the SuccessMaker course level to high-stakes test achievement. The forecasts can then be used to monitor and impact student achievement. The benefits, among others, are in the continual monitoring of progress and the opportunity to identify students who need more help to improve.

For example, if a school's goal is for more than 80 percent of students to demonstrate proficiency on their state math assessment, the school can establish a SuccessMaker target level that will yield the desired result. During the school year, SuccessMaker will provide a continual view of student progress toward the target level and corresponding goal, aiding the teacher in providing a timely and appropriate instructional focus and intervention.

In recent years, NCS Learn worked in partnership with school districts nationwide to collect and analyze data from more than 10,000 students on a wide range of standardized and state tests. In all cases, the results showed a consistent and strong correlation between student levels in SuccessMaker and student performance on the tests.

Improved Achievement on Test Day and Beyond

Regardless of where educators stand on the topic of high-stakes tests, all are eager to improve student achievement. As such, curriculum solutions must address the needs of those on both sides of the debate. Toward that end, such solutions should:

  • Provide a clear, unbiased view of student performance.
  • Provide relevant and timely diagnostic information to improve classroom practices and student learning.
  • Support relevant standards and set high expectations for all students.
  • Directly target high-stakes goals.
  • Support breadth in the curriculum to ensure that attention is given to all standards and subject areas.
  • Offer flexibility to support teachers' creativity and promote students' learning enjoyment.

As more states attach high stakes to their assessments, it is important to note that accountability systems and high-stakes tests alone will not lead to achievement gains. States must make a commitment to provide the professional development and instructional resources educators and students need to reach higher expectations. Educators must have access to high-quality training and curriculum materials to address the needs of all students, and help each meet state standards and requirements. Only then can we impact student learning and achievement well beyond this year's test day.

Contact Information
NCS Learn
Tucson, AZ
888-NCSLearn (888-627-5327)
www.ncslearn.com

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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