Some Babbling about Testing and yearly differences between classes of students



There are a bunch of things that I have come to the conclusion that I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I am getting old, or maybe South Carolina’s education history is foreign to me. It may even be a combination of the two, or some other things that I have not run across.

Let me elucidate (I am sounding more and more like Stephen A. Smith). I believe that the spread of ability across the student spectrum is about the same everywhere. That is not to say that there aren’t pockets of areas that don’t measure up, or are brighter than most. That is all possible.  For those of you who have been teachers, haven’t you been in the faculty room when someone says, “This class is different than most classes that I have taught.” They may be talking about behavior (the big one), lack of effort, poor attendance, more special education kids, or any other thing that distinguishes one class from another.

It certainly shows up on test scores. No matter what test you give, one class seems to be different from other classes. I can recall as a junior high school principal looking at Iowa test score results. There was a huge difference between one class and another. Difference does not mean they were lower or higher (which might have been the case), but the subjects that the kids did well or poorly at were at a variance. All of the teachers were the same. There really wasn’t any difference in the kinds of children that were tested. Actually, this was a particularly homogenous community.

I even sat down with the teachers and the guidance counselor and tried to figure it out. I called the elementary principals (there were four elementary schools) and asked them if they had noticed differences in particular classes. They answered that they knew that there were differences from kindergarten on. They gave me some ideas about where the children came from geographically, a particular year in which things that were happening in the community. The also talked about the family set up, such as single parent homes, being raised by other than parents, family backgrounds and such.

After counting a bunch of variables, I came out with nothing. I was stuck with the personalities of the students. The question then became, “Could we modify their behaviors to improve their leaning skills, if they were below par.” I was not really interested in why the high rollers were doing well. However, we did make sure that all the students were given opportunities to shine.

I did not think that we could impact a particular group of students (200 in each class). I would love to tell you that all of the things that we did with each class worked. They did not work. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I can only surmise from anecdotal evidence that the majority of all of the classes did well in high school. I did see their Iowa test scores up to the 10th grade. Although the students were all mixed in with the other students, there did not seem to be a particular division among the classes.

I believe that maturation occurs at different rates. It is possible that the class, whose test scores were lower, matured later than their age cohorts. Going on to college rates are another indicator if how well a class might do. From some interesting statistics recently obtained locally, some classes seem to achieve a higher percent of kids going on to post- secondary schools. I am sure that there are studies that show that some classes are better at going on to post-secondary schools and some that show that ACT or SAT scores that are higher between classes in the same school.

With all of the hoopla about high stakes testing going on around the country, resentment is brewing among the populace. Moms and dads everywhere are asking the same question. Why are you taking such vast amounts of time testing our children? If testing is used to help children progress in their studies, why are these tests used to compare schools, school districts, states and finally nations? The answer is pretty clear. Test taking, besides enriching the companies that create the tests, is the easiest way of telling how well schools, school districts and nations are doing. It is far easier to have a school take a test in one, two or three days, than to check all of the variables. It also does not take into account the various classes that take the test.

Looking at stats for the better part of my lifetime, I can forecast things about test scores. I know that almost all of you can do the same. If you line up all of the school districts in your state- wealthiest to poorest (using any measure), you will find that the wealthiest school districts have the highest scores and the poorest, the lowest scores. You can confirm this statement by reading Blake Terrill's   Crossing the River of Hope on this website.