The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 18, 2013

Literacy testing more difficult this year

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Changes to the state literacy standards this year has been causing some anxiety among teachers and administrators, especially now that annual testing season is upon them.

Gwen Walz, assessment coordinator for Mankato Area Public Schools, outlined some of the changes to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) and Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessments, among others, at Monday night’s School Board meeting.

The content isn’t changing, but the rigor of the literacy testing is.

“The standards require reading at a much higher level at any given point in time than what we would have expected before,” said Cindy Amoroso, director of curriculum instruction.

Walz provided a simplistic example for how a test can be more difficult without changing its content. One question might read, “Add 2 plus 2.” The same question on a more difficult test might read, “Take 2 and 2 and provide the sum.”

School districts received the new standards last spring and have been gradually implementing them in phases, requiring district-wide alignment and identification of Essential Learning Outcomes. Amoroso said not only the standards changed, but the way in which the material is taught also changed. So there’s a learning curve for both teachers and students.

“The more we work with it, the more we understand it,” Amoroso said.

Area principals and teachers have been preparing for the testing as best they can. Schools have been busy unpacking the new standards and aligning their curriculum accordingly, Amoroso said.

“It is a process,” said Jason Grovom, principal at Kennedy Elementary School.

Supt. Sheri Allen said any time there are “rigor changes” it’s going to make teachers and administrators anxious because everyone wants to see their students do well and succeed.

“Our teachers have worked really hard with what the specs are,” Allen said.

Because the testing is new and will take longer to analyze, results won’t be provided until the fall, Walz said.

Those results cannot be compared to previous years’ reading scores because of the difference in testing. The results will instead provide a baseline for future comparisons, Amoroso said.

Amoroso said the district is in favor of the new standards, as they will “ensure a high level of proficiency in reading because they are so rigorous.” But she isn’t sure what to expect this first year when the results come in. All districts across the state are in the same boat, however, so exceeding the state average is a good benchmark.

Walz said there’s a “forward trajectory of student learning” that is guided by assessments, and she’s proud of the work the district continues to do with meeting state standards and performing well on tests.