School assessment testing faces pandemic-related challenges

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | November 4, 2020 1:00 AM

Normally around this time of year the Whitefish School District administrators would be presenting test score results to the school board and comparing them to previous years, curriculum director Ryder Delaloye said at a recent board meeting.

This year, however, as the district continues to navigate through the various challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the district doesn’t have scores from last school year to evaluate.

The pandemic will also likely affect the validity of information gathered from assessments for this year and possibly more years to come, the district notes.

“We were starting to get to a place where we could have substantial longitudinal data, unfortunately because of Covid, not only will we have an impact for this year, we will have an impact for next year because the growth that is made in fourth grade is contingent upon the scores that those third graders get,” Delaloye said. “And so with that said we are working to establish meaningful measures for our school district that allow us to look at the systemwide growth of students, but also the criterium growth of learning standards and objectives.”

Delaloye noted that testing is not just about analyzing data, it also assists in making decisions about assisting students.

At Muldown Elementary, the classroom teachers administer assessments and then input the data into the grade level universal screener template. A teacher-run Professional Learning Community team, also called a PLC, sorts and analyzes the data collected and makes decisions for needed interventions depending on the findings.

At the middle and high school levels, it is similar as the teachers administer the assessments, only the tests are given three times a year — in the fall, winter and spring. Then a Multiple Tiered System of Support team reviews the data. A PLC team steps in to look at the data solely from students scoring below the 40th percentile, and can form a plan for intervention.

In addition to the results of the assessments, the teams determining whether intervention is needed also look at student’s attendance, grades, social emotional wellbeing and behavioral data.

Delaloye said it’s important to note that multiple sources of data are required to form educated decisions regarding assisting students in education. Whitefish Schools currently use Star testing, a nationwide standardized benchmark testing, and also common formative assessments, which are created by a PLC team based on curriculum and standards.

“One of the things that’s important that I provided in this example was we need multiple sources of data,” Delaloye said. “Also it’s not just academic, we recognize that our social emotional screener, our behavior data management system are huge factors in the academic wellbeing or achievement of students.”

Delaloye noted that last spring the school district was set to develop an assessment committee and further focus on their goal of being a “data savvy district.” However, with the coronavirus pandemic causing school shutdowns, the implementation of that committee was not feasible.

“We recognize that [Star testing] is not an ideal measurement for us to make those decisions and to look at that on a systemwide growth approach,” Delaloye said. “However, we are taking steps to find a measure that does work for us, and that can be effective for teachers, administrators and the board in making those decisions to inform policy and so forth.”

Some examples provided during the meeting showed Star test results do not tell the full story for a student’s education.

As an example, one student scored in the 94th percentile on a Star math test, but scored a 67% and 58% on an Into Math unit test, indicating that an intervention might be needed. Another student scored in the 97th percentile on the Star test, and then scored a 100% and 77% on unit tests. This further proves that multiple data sets are needed to understand shortcomings and achievements in a particular student’s education, the district notes.

Current issues related to gathering data from testing revolve around COVID-19 closures, restrictions, quarantining, the hybrid teaching model and remote learning. Star screening did not take place last spring and this fall’s testing will take place spread over three weeks with some tests being administered at home both creating factors that could lead to unreliable results, Delaloye noted.

“The validity, or how strong the data is, is questionable,” he said. “The reliability, which is the consistency of that data, both in terms of the same time, the cohort of students and the environment in which the testing is occurring, is also highly complex.”

Though, he added, the data collected from assessments this fall is still valuable despite not being able to compare it equally to years prior. The PLC teams will still be able to take the assessment data and compare it to tests that will be administered later this school year. If the percent of students testing above the benchmark of proficiency rises, improvement overall will become apparent.

“It’s still meaningful for us, it gives us what we need in terms of a high level view of where our students are at relative to other students,” Delaloye said. “Have they digressed, have they progressed, and what does that look like for us as teachers and administrators to support those students.”

Superintendent Dave Means added that nothing revolving around the pandemic is predictable, and the only way forward is to continue collecting the data that is available and assessing it as comprehensively as possible.

“I think one thing about this Covid situation is that we don’t know what will be next and what we do know is that we need to look at the information we have available to us collaboratively in groups of professionals and make the best decisions we can,” Means said. “I think it is critical to continue to empower our teachers to have professional learning communities with structures in place to allow us to gather information and make critical decisions about how we move forward.”