MHS officials make changes to boost test scores

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Marysville High School (MHS) officials know that standardized test scores in the building have to come up and all options are on the table – including adjusting lunch periods to make more instructional time available.
Preliminary numbers from testing this past school year show that the larger of Marysville’s two high school buildings met state targets on just one of seven tested areas. And although the preliminary numbers show MHS performing better than state averages, the results aren’t acceptable for administrators.
“We’re not an average school,” principal Tom Cochran said. “And we don’t want to make excuses.”
Students are tested in April or May. Most students are tested in algebra and English/language arts 1 as freshmen and then the next year are tested in geometry, biology, English/language arts 2 and U.S. history. Government is tested during junior year.
The testing schedule falls in line with the year in which students typically complete the course of study. But if a student is accelerated or follows a different schedule, such as the one offered at the Marysville Early College High School (ECHS), the testing order could be different. For example, if an accelerated math student took algebra as an eighth grader, the student would be tested near the end of that year.
To meet an indicator on state report card data, 80 percent of students taking the test must meet or exceed the set proficiency level in the subject.
MHS scores for last year (followed by state averages):
Algebra – 53 (52)
English/LA 1 – 68 (60)
Geometry – 46 (43)
Biology – 76 (69)
English/LA 2 – 62 (57)
U.S. History – 73 (72)
Government – 86 (79)
At the Marysville Early College High School (ECHS), which has a smaller student body that focuses on specific pathways such as biomed, engineering and IT, the scores are higher.
ECHS:
Geometry – 72
English/LA 1 – 90
English/LA 2 – 84
Biology – 88
American History – 90
Government – 100
Because students at ECHS take math courses in a different order, there are no algebra results for this testing cycle at the school.
Cochran said teachers and administrators at MHS are attacking the low scores, especially in math and English, on two fronts.
He said basic instruction in the tested subjects must be improved. He said simply preparing the students to perform better on the test the first time around is the best place to engage the problem. To do this, the district is implementing some additional testing at three points earlier in the year to determine how well students are absorbing the knowledge so they can receive additional instruction if needed.
“The idea is not to over test the kids and bury them under pressure,” Cochran said.
But by all indications the students at MHS actually are doing pretty well on the tests the first time they take them. Outside of geometry, 75-87 percent of first-time test takers scored above proficiency. Geometry still proved to be a problem with 56 percent of first timers scoring above proficiency.
The reason the district’s overall numbers are drastically lower than those of first time test takers is due to changes in the way districts are graded on standardized tests.
Under the old Ohio Graduation Test model, districts were graded on how students performed on the tests the first time around only. Districts were charged with helping students who scored low on those tests, but the results of retesting did not factor into the passage rate assigned to the district.
But four years ago, the state adopted a standardized testing program developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Under this model, students who do not show proficiency the first time the test is administered are retested and their scores continue to factor into the district grade.
For example, if a class of 400 students takes the algebra test and 75 percent pass, this still leaves 100 students who need to be tested again. The following year, a new class of 400 students is tested, along with the failing 100 from the previous year.
If 75 percent of those 500 students pass, that still leaves 125 students who must then be retested with the next incoming class.
The problem is, second and third time test takers show an exceptionally low passage rate – anywhere from 4-16 percent, according to Cochran. Finding a way to meet the educational needs of the students forced to retake the test is the biggest challenge facing the MHS staff, the principal said.
Cochran explained that students who do not pass multiple tests the first time around can get swirled up in a cycle where they are trying to retain knowledge from numerous courses in order to pass the seven tests.
He explained that if a student misses the mark on the algebra test as a freshman, he or she will then try again as a sophomore, but will have moved on to geometry in the classroom, leaving the algebra curriculum behind. He said students can become frustrated because they are being tested on subjects years after they took the class.
“For some of those kids, algebra was three years ago,” he said.
Keeping students engaged and supported is one of the keys to improving the scores on retests, he said. He said staff members have refocused their energy on using testing data to determine, student by student, where gaps in knowledge exist.
Once staff members have identified the areas of instructional need, time and effort must be applied.
Cochran said staff members have got to find ways to connect students with subject matter in a way that makes them interested in the topic. As some of these students are not used to succeeding in the classroom, they must be convinced to put forth the effort.
“We have to get the students to buy-in,” Cochran said.
The second necessary component of improving scores on retests is instructional time.
“We have to figure better ways to get them intervention,” Cochran said.
Sometimes the answer is to simply attack the retest quickly.
Testing is offered three times throughout the year, one of those times being in the summer. Cochran said students who barely fall short of needed scores are now receiving immediate summer aid in an effort to pass the tests before the next school year starts.
Other students need more time with instructors throughout the next year and that is where the MHS administrators had to get creative. Cochran explained that adjusting schedules to increase classroom time by minutes each day, equates to hours of additional instruction over the course of the year.
For example, MHS students previously were assigned one of three, 50-minute lunch periods each day. That number has been trimmed to two, 40-minute lunch periods, freeing up time each day.
Cochran said that time carved out of lunch periods was been used to create an extra “Monarch Hour” that many students will use as study time, but those students who need help passing tests can get the intervention they need.
While the framework of grading schools on standardized tests has been changed, the goal of educators has not, according to Cochran said. He said staff members have to find the passion in all students.
After all, he noted, each district in the state is being judged by the same standards as MHS.



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