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Scores important, but tests are dreaded

February 26, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: This is the seventh 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. For today's story, staff writer Jennifer Fitch talked to students about their experiences with the required Pennsylvania System of School Assessments.

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Her class has been known to request new quizzes, but Bobbi Blubaugh's fifth-graders hate the state tests they took recently.

"They're scary," Dakota Green said.

"They're boring. They take too long," Hannah Rowe said.

The initial sections of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) spanned two days mid-month. The reading and math tests have been scheduled for next month.

The writing prompts asked children to answer questions, then write five-paragraph stories. They said they wrote essays about the feelings a new student would experience and a persuasive piece about why they should have more free time.

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"I got confused because I didn't mark my paragraphs on my TAP (organizer) form and did six paragraphs instead of five," said Anna Bowling, a new student at Fairview Elementary School.

The children said TAP - which stands for Topic, Audience and Pick - is a method of getting organized before writing.

Hollister Rolls had to create a whole new essay on the official PSSA forms, after messing up the scratch worksheet.

"I did it backwards," she said.

The PSSAs measure students' accomplishments in relation to academic standards. The tests are a very significant component in deciding whether a school district has made "adequate yearly progress" in line with the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.

Scores are reported as "advanced," "proficient," "basic" or "below basic," with state officials mandating that all students be "proficient" or "advanced" in math and reading by 2014.

"If you are 'basic' or 'below basic,' they usually offer you tutoring," Hollister said.

Horizon Draper said he took the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) before he moved to the Waynesboro Area School District and much preferred that test. Fewer questions were on the Maryland version, he said.

"It's hard when they make us remember stuff from the beginning of the year," Krisi Rogers said.

Cupcakes and encouragement from Mandy Huntsberry's parents filled the evening before the PSSAs for her. She believes a party might be held if she does well on the tests.

"I had a hard time when I was in third grade," Mandy said.

That was the first year of testing for the now fifth-graders, she said.

Preparation for the reading and math tests includes trips to the computer lab for Study Island. Some of the children said they visit their school's Web site from home to use the software.

Zachary Wolford described using Study Island to pass the time when he was sick recently.

Classtime, too, has been devoted to PSSA preparation, the students said.

"Mrs. Blubaugh, if there's something that's not on the PSSAs, she doesn't go over that. She goes over stuff that's on the PSSAs," Lindsey Friese said.

While the children dislike the PSSAs, they said they understand the importance of taking them.

"It helps us improve through the years," Marleigh Chaney said.

She and others said the writing portions of the PSSAs seemed easy, but complained about sitting for the several hours required to take them.

Being permitted to stand, stretch or walk around would make the tests more bearable, Hannah said.

Lindsey said the best part of the PSSAs is being "excited because they were finally over."

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