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Standardized Testing To Begin Next Week



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Standardized Testing To Begin Next Week

By Martha Coville

Standardized testing scheduled by the State Board of Education will begin next week in Newtown schools. Students in grades three through eighth will take the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), and tenth graders will sit for the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

The tests serve a variety of purposes. Perhaps most importantly, they satisfy the federal No Child Left Behind laws, which require schools to show that students’ achieve Adequate Yearly Performance (AYP) each year.

Newtown schools and students usually test well. For example, last year, 90 percent of third grade students were declared at or above reading proficiently levels. Their math and writing scores where slightly higher.

Assistant Superintendent Linda Gejda, who supervises curriculum for the district, explained that the district employs several strategies to ensure student success. She and other school administrators in Newtown Schools said that they consider the CMTs and CAPT testing as an extension of the student assessment and curriculum driven instruction.

Dr Gejda said that the district’s strategy is “a combination of things. Obviously,” she said, “each school building has its own goals, all tied to district goals.” It is very important, she said, “to make sure that each student gets the help that he or she needs” to succeed during testing.

She said that the district also encourages “teachers networking with each other, sharing practices that work.”

Dr Gejda said that the district does not consider the testing an irrelevant state or federal requirement, or an egregious interruption of instruction. “That’s the thing,” she said. In Newtown, “the information and assessment occur on an ongoing basis, not just with the CMT and CAPT.”

She said that administrators conduct many other “formulative assessments,” throughout the school year. “In Newtown,” she said, “we believe in continuous improvement.” Gauging improvement is done formally, by reviewing students’ end of unit tests, and informally, through “an activity that students are asked to perform,” or by “just observing how students interact in the classroom.”

Dr Gejda said that the CAPT and CMT tests fit into a much larger project within the district, and are in fact, aligned with district goals.

Principals’ Perspectives

Newtown school administrators, including  Newtown Middle School Principal Diane Sherlock, Reed Intermediate School Principal Donna Denniston, and Barbara Gasparine, vice principal at Sandy Hook School, said that while the central office uses the testing for student assessment, they approach it as educators and instructors.

Ms Denniston said, “You cannot prepare children in the few weeks before the test.” For example, she said, the State Board of Education had announced, almost two years ago, that the fifth grade CMT would include a section devoted to science.

“About a year and a half ago,” she said, “we began realigning our science curriculum” to prepare students.

Ms Denniston said that the Reed School tackles the CMT in two ways. “One is that we look at the testing results in terms of the curriculum,” she said. “If many children struggle with the same thing, then you look at the curriculum. And the other is that we look at the individual child.”

Ms Denniston said that Reed School approaches the test with long-term instructional preparation in part because the CMTs are cumulative. “The fifth grade CMT, she said, “for example, measures what students have done from kindergarten through the fifth grade.”

At the Newtown Middle School, Ms Sherlock said, “The emphasis is on good day-to-day instruction. We’re really more into learning than testing; the CMT strategy at NMS is curriculum driven, just as it is at Reed.”

Ms Sherlock said, “What I would say is this: the district has done a really great job of aligning its curriculum with the state’s. We’re very close to testing to what we’re teaching, which is very exciting.”

At Sandy Hook elementary school, Ms Gasparine said teachers focus on providing students with solid academic skills. She said, “Basically, as educators, our philosophy is to teach kids to become good readers, writers, and mathematicians.”

Putting Students At Ease

The state provides school districts with some flexibility to determine testing dates. Still, testing drags on, and inevitably creates student anxiety.

“We take this very seriously,” Dr Gejda said, “and we give it due diligence, but we don’t want our students to become overwhelmed.”

Ms Gasparine, whose third grade students take the CMT for the first time, says SHS teaches students test taking skills, to make the whole process easier to approach.

“Sometimes students get stressed out,” said, Ms Sherlock, “but we do try to make it as stress-free as possible.”

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