The experience here
is being played out throughout the nation as states move to
align themselves with the federal 'No Child Left Behind' law
enacted in 2002. Here it also is the capstone of the state's
education accountability program developed during the 1990s.
When it comes to
raising the bar on education standards, Delaware has a lead on
the public school establishment in most of her sister states in
terms of the proportion of students whose performance it is
measuring, according to Wendy Roberts, director of assessment
and accountability in the Delaware Department of Education.
While most of the
publicity during the past few years has been concentrated on
third-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders -- the group now being
tested in reading, mathematics and writing -- and the results
they achieve, science and social studies tests are also given to
fourth- and sixth-graders in October and eighth- and
11th-graders in May.
teachers, of course, are aware of the testing and the DelDOE's
publishing of scores attracts attention, few people are
cognizant of what the assessment program entails. Educators at
both the administrative and teaching levels have gone to great
lengths to establish curriculum standards and determine how
students, schools and districts measure up to them.
A key principle in
that, Roberts said, is local initiative. The standards were
developed by committees of active educators and the content of
the tests is largely a local effort. They are published and
scored under contract by
Texas-based Harcourt Educational
Measurement, one of the leading companies in the field. They
include some content from the comprehensive Version Nine of the
Stanford Achievement Test but about two-thirds of the content is
That, she explained, provides a fair
and objective measure of how students fare with curriculums
meeting state standards and, in the process, how well their
teachers are doing in imparting the required learning.
"We are well satisfied with the
program. It is an integral part of our accountability system,"
The tests which proctors will draw
from sealed packets during the next several days were two years
in the making.
Teacher committees come up with
appropriate questions -- which include a mixture of
multiple-choice, short-response and essay type -- and they are
'field tested' at the appropriate grade levels. Among other
things, that pinpoints and eliminates any cultural or other bias
that may have slipped in, she said.
Since that occurs two academic years
prior to the testing, those children will be in higher grades by
the time the questions appear on actual tests.
The committees have to produce
between 60 and 80 questions a year.
They also establish criteria that
evaluators will use to score the essay-type responses and,
again, there are dry runs to evaluate how the scorers at
Harcourt adhere to the criteria, Roberts said.
It costs the state about $15 a
student to publish and score the tests.
Both the blank tests and the results
are controlled by a strict security system, she added. The tests
are "kept under lock and key" until testing day. Educators who
do have access to the questions are required to sign a
confidentially agreement. "Ethics and honor is involved, but
there has been no [indication] that has been violated" since the
testing program began, she said.
The results are released on a strict
timetable. The general public gets the overall tallies for
districts and schools; school administrators control access to
individual results; teachers get to see individual scores; and
parents or guardians receive individual results of their
children. DelDOE does not issue a comparison among schools and
districts but such can easily be developed, as has been done by
the media, by simply ranking the published scores.
Those results determine if students
are promoted or require summer school. Tenth grade results begin
a two-year process of determining whether a student will
graduate and what kind of diploma he or she will receive.
Roberts said there is a widespread
misconception that the relatively high stakes involved in the
test results lead teachers to 'teach to the test'; that is,
concentrate on preparing students to do well on the tests in
lieu of giving an understanding of the subject. Since the
tests are directly linked to the state curriculum standards,
teachers are able to 'teach to the standards' -- which is what
establishing the standards was intended to do.
She said that timing of the
test-taking is dictated by the need to have results hack in May
in order to determine summer school requirements and grade
advancement. To be sure, she acknowledged, new material will be
presented during the remaining third of the academic year, but
the broad base use to formulate the test questions balances out
the 'we haven't been taught that yet' factor. Moreover, she
added, the testing is cumulative, including what is supposed to
have been learned in prior years.
She said that five years of
experience with the testing program and the results it has
produced demonstrate that it is an accurate measure of student
performance and a statistically valid assessment of trends
toward improving that performance.