June 22, 2001

Red Clay Consolidated School District is challenging results of this year's state student-assessment testing of its high schoolers, a district official told the school board. It could not be determined whether that is to be an official protest nor how much of the testing is in question.

"We feel our 10th grade scores this year are invalid," Gail Ames, director of research and assessment said at the board's June 20 meeting. "Our 10th grade testing had to be delayed by several days because we didn't get the materials. That created a very negative test atmosphere."

She did not give further details, but Robin Taylor, assistant state secretary of education, later said that delivery of only one packet of material, the writing test for Dickinson High School, was delayed. That was the only glitch in the state in the distribution and administration of the test. United Parcel Service delivered the test materials.

Taylor said she was unaware of any protest from Red Clay. After district officials informed the Department of Education about the situation, they were given permission to have Dickinson students take the writing test on other than Mar. 15, the scheduled date for administering the test throughout the state.

"We replaced all the material right away and they had the [reading and math] tests in plenty of time to give [those tests] on the scheduled days. We told them it was all right to wait until after [the other tests] to give the writing [one]," Taylor said.

The average score on this year's writing test at Dickinson was 6.61, down from 6.92 in 2000. The district average on the high school test dropped to 6.79 from 7.25 last year. Red Clay administrators reportedly were on a 'retreat' and Ames was unavailable for further comment when her office was contacted by Delaforum.

She told the school board that she had worked out a matrix for reporting test results in the district which shows year-to-year comparisons based on the numbers of students meeting or exceeding state standards. That, she said, was more meaningful than reporting averages. It would show changes -- for better or worse -- in student performance and thereby provide a better indicator of how the district measures up against state curriculum standards.

A detailed breakdown which would show differences in each of the five reporting categories -- meeting the standard, exceeding the standard, 'distinguished' performance, below standard and well below standard -- makes it possible to determine what is happening at each level, Ames said.

"We want increases in the number of students at the top and decreases in the number at the bottom. We don't just want to settle for average," she said.

"It's the first time any school district has attempted to do what the state testing doesn't do," said school board president William Manning.

Extending his comments beyond the reporting, Manning went on to say that if districts and their administrators are to be held accountable for student performance they need "something that is a better instrument and administered efficiently."

"Right now we're having to work around the [state testing program]," he said. "It is actually a hindrance, and not an asset in getting us to where we want to go."

Ames stopped short of providing the board with actual numbers from her matrix, explaining that the Department of Education had placed school administrators under a 'strict embargo' against disclosing any information before it was announced by Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff and Governor Ruth Ann Minner.

The state received test results around the end of May. They were made available to districts and schools before the academic year ended on June 9, but not in a statewide context. Members of the Red Clay board did not receive their copies of the district report from DelDOE before the June 20 meeting, the night before the state report was 'released' in Dover.

Delaforum was unable to determine from either Brandywine or Red Clay district sources who was allowed to know what and when they were allowed to know. Nor could anyone say what, if any, sanctions would be imposed on anyone who violated the 'embargo'.

Parents and guardians were to have received by mail an individual report on their child's results on June 22 or 23.

Ron Gough, DelDOE's public information officer, said the statewide report was compiled and made public as quickly as it was practical to do so.

Included in the many charts in the 200-page 'summary report' was breakdown of data for each school by performance category. Delaforum has prepared charts showing this information by school in each of the two districts upon which it normally reports.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read a Delaforum Extra: Some key results of state assessment tests in Brandywine and Red Clay
Go to Delaware Department of Education report on this year's state testing program
Read related story: Public schools turn in mixed results





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