I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

01 January 2013

Testing and the Use of Data

In years past, the District's Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers administered the Brigance.  It wasn't the world's most useful assessment (particularly the first grade version, which boasted one of the strangest high-frequency word lists I've ever seen), but it was a very broad assessment.  For Kindergarten, it covered

  • personal knowledge (name, birthdate, phone number, etc.)
  • self-concept (self portrait task)
  • fine motor skills (copying shapes, writing one's name)
  • gross motor skills (walking backwards heel to toe, standing on one foot)
  • alphabet recognition
  • oral counting
  • number recognition
  • math readiness (adding-like task)
  • color recognition
  • naming parts of the body (vocabulary task)
It also had space for teachers to note which hand was the child's dominant one (or if the child switched hands, which I'm seeing more of every year - kids who don't have a dominant hand until later in Kindergarten.*)  You could also note any concerns you had about the child, specifically around vision and hearing.

Brigance data were recorded on Scantron and sent to the District, who would then analyze them.  When your Brigances came back, the district told you in what percentile the child's score ranked - both locally (for your school) and overall (District-wide).  The district also reported (although not to schools directly) Brigance ranges and percentiles for each individual school.

These are some interesting data, yeah?  I mean, the district knew which schools had more children who were more and less academically ready for Kindergarten.  The administration of the Brigance is straightforward.  It was not a high-stakes test; no one's job or child's future was dependent on the test.  The data were certainly reliable and valid.

Given such data, you could really do some strategic thinking - especially if school-site data trended similarly year after year (which it did).   If you knew a school was likely to have more students with less preschool experience who scored less well on the Brigance, you could try to offer more ECE programming in those neighborhoods.  You could partner with JumpStart.  You could make some adjustments to the Weighted Student Formula and allocate funding to those school's Kindergarten classes.  You could hire paraeducators to assist in doing small-group instruction for less-ready students.  Etc.

Or you could do none of these things.

Guess which course of action the District took.

So this is part of the reason I am so very leery of the CLAs (luckily not part of Kindergarten), the coming Smarter Balanced assessments, and the total lack of a District-wide entry assessment this year.  The District collects reams of data.  They purchased an online data system for that data.  There is an entire District office that analyzes and disseminates that data.  Yet "data-driven instruction" is something only teachers and grade levels are expected to do.  If the District really wanted to be "data-driven", they'd be making District-wide budget decisions based on things like the Brigance.  They didn't.  Instead, they collected the data, turned them into nice charts, and...had a bunch of nice charts, I guess.

The teachers whose students were less ready for Kindergarten were left to solve that one on their own.  But undoubtedly, did their efforts fail to ameliorate the problem, the District would propose they look hard at the data and reflect on the problem - which is certainly not a systemic one, but a problem of individual teachers and schools.

If we are really engaged in an effort to teach all children, we need to act like it.  That can't happen when a district sees its role as a data collector, not part of the education system that creates the data.  And that definitely can't happen if we can't be bothered to have an intake assessment at all.   As far as the District's concerned, this year every Kindergarten student came in knowing the same things; how they do on the District-wide assessments will be due entirely to what their teachers bring to them.

*Also, I'm seeing more lefties - 25% of my class is left-handed this year, and over the past few years the number of left-handed kids has generally gone up.  I have no idea if this is just my class or some kind of trend.  Whatever the case, I'm left-handed myself, so I am ALL KINDS OF READY for my lefties, not just with left-handed tools but also with "How to use right-handed scissors with ease" and other such failsafes.

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