The Department of Defense Education Activity plans to administer additional annual testing starting in the 2009-2010 school year in order to help students score higher on standardized exams.
The majority of DODEA students scored as well as or better than their peers in TerraNova tests they took during the last school year. But that still left thousands of students failing to hit the standards — or meet DODEA’s goals.
So students from third to eighth grade will start taking similar tests each fall in order to give instructors a chance to concentrate on weak areas before students take the TerraNova tests in the spring, according to Steve Schrankel, chief of assessment for DODEA.
Such tests, "help us understand where we need to improve," said Marc Mossburg, chief of curriculum for DODEA.
In last year’s testing, students in nine grade levels (third through 11) took tests in five subject areas: reading, language, math, science and social studies. So there were 45 basic areas (one per each subject per grade level) to monitor. But each of those is also broken down into four percentage categories: above standard, at standard, partially met standard and below standard.
The system’s goals call for only 7 percent of students to fall into the "below standard" category by 2011.
"Ideally, we’d like to see no children in that," Mossburg said.
That’s not realistic, though.
"Every school district has to deal with the reality of statistics," said Frank O’Gara, a public affairs officer with the system. "There are always going to be kids who don’t meet the standard."
That doesn’t mean, however, that DODEA won’t keep trying to raise the bar, Mossburg said, noting that the district’s goals were 8 percent in the "below standard" category just a few years ago.
"We have an expectation that every child can learn," O’Gara said. "And we don’t give up on any child."
Officials say that DODEA has an array of programs designed to help students who aren’t meeting standards, with specialists and curriculum designed to help them catch up to their peers.
In some cases, that’s all it takes, Mossburg said. He said students can fall behind for a variety of reasons. Some have learning disabilities. Others came from other school districts where the subject matter differed. Some just had trouble concentrating during the test because a parent was deployed or something else was going on in their lives. Many of the students who didn’t fare as well on the tests were already taking specially designed classes, he said.
Unlike some districts in the States, DODEA doesn’t require students to pass a specific test in order to graduate. And a single series of TerraNova tests might not be good indicator of future success either.
"We don’t want to say a test score is going to determine the future of a particular student," Mossburg said.
Still, he said DODEA believes that the TerraNova tests are a good way to judge academic progress that students are making.
In 19 of the 45 areas, students met or exceeded the 7-percent goal last year. They fell just short (8 or 9 percent) in 14 other spots. The highest "below standard" rate was 13 percent for third-graders in reading. The lowest "below standard" rates were turned in by high school freshmen and juniors, both at just 4 percent.
Mossburg said DODEA is also trying to get fewer students to fall into the "partially met standard" category as well. Such students might have understood basic concepts about the Civil War during the testing, for example, but were not judged to have had a good enough grasp of all they needed to know about it.
In all but a few cases, there were more DODEA students grouped in the "above standard" category than in the other three. For instance, 45 percent of seventh-graders scored in the top tier in language, followed by 30 percent meeting the standard, 19 percent partially meeting the goal and 6 percent failing.
Overall, DODEA students scored at the same percentages they did a year ago. But officials said they believe that test scores will continue to improve and the goals will be met.
"It’s hard, when you reach the level we’re at, to continue to get better every year," Mossburg said. "But there’s always room for improvement."
Why more testing?
DODEA officials say the TerraNova tests are a good way to judge the academic progress that students are making, but thousands of students are still failing to hit DODEA’s goals.
Officials plan for new tests to asses the strengths and weaknesses of students in the fall, so instructors get a chance to concentrate on weak areas before students take the TerraNova tests in the spring.
Last year, students in nine grade levels (third through 11) took tests in five subject areas: reading, language, math, science and social studies. The system’s goals call for only 7 percent of students to fall into the "below standard" category by 2011. Out of the 45 (one per each subject per grade level) basic areas to monitor, students:
met or exceeded the 7-percent goal last year in 19 of the 45 areas.fell just short of the goal in 14 other spots.had the highest "below standard" rate in the third grade, in reading, at 13 percent.had the lowest "below standard" rates by high school freshmen and juniors, both at 4 percent.passed with 45 percent of seventh-graders scoring in the top tier in language, followed by 30 percent meeting the standard, 19 percent partially meeting the goal and 6 percent failing.What contributes to students falling behind?
According to Marc Mossburg, chief of curriculum for DODEA, there are many reasons why children can fall behind in any or all areas of study. In addition, many of the students who didn’t fare as well on the tests were already taking specially designed classes
Some of the reasons can be attributed to: