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Tests provide academic 4Sight

September 17, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Editor's note: This is the second in a continuing series of stories exploring the workings of a modern-day classroom. The Herald-Mail is spending parts of the 2007-08 school year visiting with and writing about a fifth-grade classroom at Fairview Elementary School in the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District. We will write stories monthly (and sometimes more often) about a variety of topics encountered by Bobbi Blubaugh's classroom of 27 students. Today's story focuses on standardized testing.




It was only the second week of school, and Bobbi Blubaugh's class was focused on the tests before it.

While filling in bubbles on Scantron sheets, the students were frequently being tested on skills and knowledge they are months away from learning.

The two recent days of 4Sight tests in the Waynesboro Area School District served as a starting point, district administrators said.

"That's the whole point of the 4Sight assessments, to show growth over time," said Gloria Walker, the district's assistant superintendent.

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Two more 4Sight tests await students in grades three through eight this school year. Three more are scheduled for ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders.

In 2006-07, the pilot year for districtwide 4Sight evaluations, everyone took the tests five times.

"You want to test kids to find out where they are, but you don't want to spend all your time testing," Walker said, explaining why fewer tests are being administered.

Many of the children in Blubaugh's class agreed.

"The 4Sights, it seems like we take them all the time," Anna Swink said.

"It was hard," Russell Jones said.

A "read-in" at the end of the week not only rewarded students' efforts, but also allowed Blubaugh to administer the Developmental Reading Assessments (DRAs). The children lounged on pillows to explore favorite books, then were called one by one to read aloud to the teacher.

The 4Sight tests measure proficiency in math and reading to gauge student achievement in the same manner as the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). The latter, springtime assessment is a state component of the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.

"The 4Sights are based on the PSSA assessment anchors. What they tell us is where (students) are in relation to the anchors," Walker said.

This year, parents will be receiving 4Sight results and a letter explaining that initial scores might be lower than desired. That is because children are being tested on material not covered in the classroom until later in the school year, Walker said.

"I think the hard part was the math, with the stuff we haven't learned yet. Our teacher said there was stuff we don't know and to try our best," Cadi Robinson said.

Anna said her advice to other students would echo that provided by Blubaugh.

"Try your best and don't worry about it," Anna said.

District staff members have streamlined and improved the scoring process, which was rather challenging at first, according to Walker.

"There's over 5,000 tests that have to be scanned. There were people pulling their hair out, but I think they saw the value," Walker said.

Anna can understand the importance of the assessments.

They are "to see what you need help with," Anna said.

A delayed start to school Friday has been scheduled for teachers to analyze scores, Walker said.

"My math is probably OK, but my reading I don't know about," Kyle Ebersole said.

Grant money paid for the 4Sight tests, which Walker estimated cost $15,000 to administer. Timed at one hour for reading and one hour for math, the tests are spread over two days and will next be given in January for those in grades three through eight.

The district first used 4Sight with its Education Assistance Program grant to improve math scores at Waynesboro Area Senior High School.

"Once we started using this with the EAP, we realized how valuable it is to give the teachers information," Walker said.

Approximately 340 of the state's 501 school districts used 4Sight tests in 2006-07, according to the Pennsylvania Training & Technical Assistance Network Web site.

"Each school district has to decide how they are going to use them. Our issue last year was we were on a (state) warning list and needed good data for the teachers," Walker said.

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