Friday, May 20, 2011

More on CMS testing

The testing frenzy in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is winding down, though state-ordered retests for those who fail state exams will drag things out.

CMS officials will soon be crunching results from the 52 new end-of-year exams the district created for everything from kindergarten science to high-school calculus. Each school will get a report on how its kids fared, says Chris Cobitz, the CMS official in charge of the tests. By identifying where kids soared and where they floundered, CMS hopes schools can refine teaching tactics to help students learn more.

Individual students will not get results, with one exception: The tests that CMS designed for Advanced Placement classes can be used in place of a teacher's final exam for grading, Cobitz says. The AP exams given by The College Board aren't used toward grades because the results aren't available in time.

Cobitz said CMS hasn't yet decided whether to report results for individual teachers. As you may recall, the push to generate "value-added" ratings of teacher effectiveness is driving development of the new tests. This year, Cobitz says, principals are under orders not to use the new exams to evaluate teachers.

We also talked about the test-security issues that are creating a buzz. Cobitz says the state and district codes of ethics specify that teachers can lose their jobs and licenses if they disclose "secure information" from tests. That definitely includes revealing a question, whether that's in an online post, an email or a conversation in the grocery store, Cobitz said.

When there's an allegation that someone has breached test security, CMS investigates and, if a state exam is involved, makes a report to state officials. Cobitz said he's done one investigation in connection with the new CMS exams and concluded there was no violation.

Cobitz says teachers who think questions are flawed should discuss their concerns with the school test coordinator, who can relay it to him. They're not supposed to put specifics into an email because emails may be subject to public disclosure. Once specific questions are public, they're no longer considered valid.

Some people have urged me to get a copy of "the test" and print it in the Observer. While Cobitz let me look at the early versions of the K-2 tests, he's not about to hand them over for publication, for the reason just cited. And if he did, publication wouldn't be practical; there's not one test but a mountain of them. The various versions of the K-2 test alone created a phone-book sized stack.

So, will CMS work out the kinks and create a testing system that makes sense to families and faculty? That remains to be seen.
p.s. I'm going on vacation next week. The timing coincides with the departure of some Observer employees (no reporters) because of our own "reduction in force," but it's just that -- a coincidence. Like it or not, I'll be back soon!

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