GASD works on ways to improve test scores


Recorder News Staff

Greater Amsterdam School District students grades 3 through 8 are in the middle of their second string of the new New York State Common Core Assessments this week.

Michele Downing, director of Data and Personnel, said that the students went through a three-day, four-part assessment of English language arts last week and began their math assessments this week.

"Common Core is a new starting point for everyone, teachers, students, parents, and administrators," Downing said. "It's to get a more realistic picture."

The new tests are harder and a little bit more rigorous, Downing explained, but they are all to help students graduate as college and career ready.

According to information provided by the state education commissioner's office, each year, about 140,000 students finish their fourth year of high school "not fully prepared for college and their careers."

The new assessments encompass a new test design with "more constructed responses," less time for third and fourth graders, and a new score scale, among other changes.

Thomas Perillo, superintendent of Schools for the Greater Amsterdam School District, said the state education commissioner announced early on that the tests would indeed be more challenging, and the district geared its strategies toward preparing the students and faculty for that.

"Just knowing ... that they were going to be more difficult, when you're a student or when you're teacher, the first thing you say to yourself is, 'What does that mean?'"

And though that anxiety came with that announcement, Robert Mark, director of Elementary Instruction for the GASD, said a lot of work has been put in to lessen the uncertainty.

"The students and the staff and teachers aides haves all put a lot of effort in, trying to get all the assessments in place," Mark said.

Downing echoed the same sentiments, saying that the district personnel continue to work hard to prepare the students.

Parents nights have been held at each building to talk about Common Core testing and to familiarize parents with the changes, and the website has become the "first line for everyone" in terms of information on Common Core, Downing said.

Aside from monthly data meetings at the elementary buildings, district personnel have also spent time looking at what other kinds of data they need in order to know more about their students.

"Everything came at once, new standards, new assessments, a new teacher evaluation system," Downing said. "We might see people stressed, but if we can take it for what it is, it's a new starting point."

The assessment process itself is similar to years past, Mark said, as it takes multiple days to complete the tests.

About three years ago district staff had to adjust to the way they looked through the test results, as the state decided that the test questions would no longer be available for district viewing, post-assessments.

But with each change the district just develops new strategies, he added.

The state assessment performance scores are not used for the student report cards, but they are shared with the parents of each student.

Downing said the test really isn't about student performance right now, but about the dynamic of the test changing, and the district administration has made an effort to share that with the parents.

"Our job as parents is to make sure (students get) good rest and do the best they can. It's offering a new starting point," Downing said. "We want to see how students are progressing. The idea I think is that the tests right now may seem difficult, but as time goes on, we'll have a better handle on our students."

With the new data that comes in, Mark said that administration will look at the test scores and compare them to the state scores as a whole.

Perillo said the whole point of the new assessments is to make sure the state feels that the students are college and career ready when they finish high school.

"It's safe to say that it is more challenging than it has been in the past, but really it will be in the results and how they're interpreted and how we use them. That's what it's going to boil down to."