By Terry Rogers
Anyone who has a child who attends school is aware that each school is required to administer state tests to students during the school year. The Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), which replaced the Delaware Student Testing Program (DSTP) in 2010, is a computer-based, multiple-choice test designed to provide district and state administrators with a snapshot of student progress over the school year.
Students are tested once at the beginning of the year and once toward the end of the year, providing teachers and administrators with a gauge to determine which students need additional help, such as tutoring or extended school year, or summer school services. Students who do poorly on both tests are sometimes given a third test, and the highest of the three scores used.
Greer Stangl, who taught for more than 20 years in Milford School District, and who helped write state test items, benchmarked the Middle School reading test, and was the only Teacher-In-Residence in the state, says that schools have become so focused on scoring well on the state test, funding has been cut for many valuable programs, including music, the arts, and especially gifted and talented programs.
“Kids who are scoring a four at the beginning of the year, the highest score you can get on the test, are being ignored because they can’t improve on a four,” Ms. Stangl explains. “How can you expect SAT scores to be good if there is a glass ceiling. The focus of No Child Left Behind was that all children in schools achieve, not just those who are scoring badly on a state test.”
Ms. Stangl, who has a daughter and twin sons in Milford School District says that some teachers place far too much pressure on students when they are tested because teachers are concerned about their own jobs should the students do poorly.
“My sons have different teachers. One had a teacher who had been in the classroom for quite some time, while the other had a new teacher,” Ms. Stangl said. “The one with the new teacher became very anxious and worried about the state test because his teacher put significant pressure on the class to do well. The student with the older teacher was not at all concerned because the teacher did not make a big deal about it. I firmly believe the students without pressure did much better than the students that were pressured.”
Gayle Parola, whose daughters attend Milford schools, and who is certified to teach elementary education, and highly qualified to teach Middle School Math and Special Education, says that she feels parents are not fully informed about state testing.
“Questions that I have as a parent are: What does it mean for my student personally? What if my child doesn’t score in the normal range? How does that impact his/her learning?” Mrs. Parola said. “But, realistically thinking, I don’t think one test, taken three times a year, should become what defines how my children perform or are taught in school.” Mrs. Parola, who is seeking a teaching position, says that she is of the understanding that teachers are not to “teach to the test” or integrate any parts of the test into everyday learning.
“What I would do, however, is be sure that my students were comfortable with test taking by incorporating test taking strategies, how to manage test anxiety, good test taking skills, etc., so that my students did not feel pressured during the test,” Mrs. Parola explained.
Travis Moorman, Director of Teaching and Learning for Milford School District, responded to Ms. Parola’s questions regarding state testing from the district’s point of view.
“At this point in time, there is no accountability for the student in regards to promotion or retention solely based on test scores,” Mr. Moorman explained. “Teachers utilize DCAS results as one source of many to determine the instructional needs of students. This assists in the creation of small groups for instruction as well in how teachers can differentiate instruction for large groups or a whole class of students. “ Mr. Moorman explained that if a student’s score indicates they are not meeting grade level standards, schools must determine what instructional needs are necessary to help that child succeed.
“It is important to know that DCAS is designed to show student growth as well, so as the student completes the test at the end of the year, they are expected to show at least one year’s worth of growth,” Mr. Moorman explained. In addition to levels set by the state that determine whether a child is growing at the proper rate, teachers meet as grade levels or departments and discuss multiple sources of data to strategize how to best meet the needs of all students. Mr. Moorman pointed out that DCAS also allows the district to evaluate the instructional programs and strategies used by teachers to determine the best way to support student progress.
DCAS testing is in place in Delaware for at least one more year. According to Alison Kepner of the Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Board of Education is considering adopting a program known as “Smarter Balanced,” a national assessment test to replace DCAS. The program is currently being piloted in districts throughout the state before the state board votes to adopt the new test.