‘The whole school just goes berserk’ | VailDaily.com

‘The whole school just goes berserk’

Scott N. Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – Kids in Eagle County take a lot of tests. But a couple matter more than most.Most people know about the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP. Those tests are used to evaluate the work of both kids and schools. But some parents think another test kids take may be more valuable.Most kids in the Eagle County School District take one test – called the Northwestern Evaluation Association, or NWEA – in the fall and spring. The tests allow parents and teachers to see where kids are doing well, and, perhaps more important, where they need help.”I love the NWEA’s,” said parent Shelly Doyle of Gypsum. “You can really see where your child has progressed.”Doyle, who has one child going into sixth grade and another going into second grade in August, said her oldest kid is often eager to take the test. Her youngest hasn’t started on the tests yet.”The goals get him excited,” she said.The chance to do better in the next round of tests appeals to a lot of kids, said Mike Gass, the district’s director of middle and high school curriculum.”We have some of the high achieving kids who ask to take the tests again because they didn’t hit their goals,” Gass said. More time for goalsBut why test kids on math, reading and writing when they’re already taking the state-ordered CSAP tests? The main reason is time. Results from CSAP tests kids took in April won’t be released until next month, far too late to help kids who might need some extra attention. The twice-yearly NWEA tests give teachers and parents a chance to catch problems early, and also provide a more fine-tuned gauge of progress. The CSAP tests put students in one of four categories: advanced, proficient, partially proficient and unsatisfactory. Painting with that broad brush means a student may be making progress in school, but the youngster’s status with the state may not change over the course of a couple of years. The NWEAs, however, show the district is making progress. With the exception of ninth and 10th grade math, students are meeting, or beating, their district-set targets.While the NWEA tests don’t fit exactly with the state’s test – at least not yet – it does fit with the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, and its frequent meetings of groups of teachers. In those meetings, teachers discuss both methods and individual kids. The twice-yearly tests help teachers create plans for kids who might be struggling.”If somebody’s not doing well, we can look and say ‘What does the kid not get, and what are we going to do about it?'” Gass said.Knowing kids’ needs can help teachers reach the goals set for them. That, in turn, can help teachers, whose performance pay is based in large part on how their kids do on their standardized tests.”We need to give teachers the tools to fight the battle they fight every day,” Gass said.No fans of CSAPWhile Doyle and other parents are fans of the twice-yearly tests, the ones interviewed for this story don’t have much use for the state tests.”I would love to have my kids boycott CSAP and just take the NWEA tests,” said Karen Eyrich, who has four kids in local schools. “The whole school just goes berserk during CSAPs. They don’t have homework, and they don’t do much else.”Alice Pankey, a former teacher in the district who has one kid at Berry Creek Middle School and another at Edwards Elementary, said she’d like to see a lot less testing.”There’s just so much of it,” Pankey said. “I think we figured it out once at something like 30 days … It’s just too much. It’s stressful on the kids.”But Pankey and Eyrich agreed with Doyle that testing kids to see how much, and how well, they’re learning is valuable for everyone.And, from Gass’ perspective, everything the district is doing is on the verge of showing real results.”We’ve initiated a lot of stuff in the last few years,” he said. “Now we need to step back, tune it up and let the motor run. We need to support our teachers and work with them to make this a valuable system.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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