Thursday, September 8, 2011

CMS testing ramping up early

Fresh off summer vacation, many students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools find themselves staring down another crop of district-wide tests. CMS calls the tests "formatives," which is to say they help formulate the rest of the semester's instruction by giving teachers an early read on students' aptitude. Some students took the tests on the very first day of classes, said Scott Muri, chief information officer for CMS.

The formatives, which are optional, aren't the same as the 50-plus mandatory new end-of-semester tests that sparked all the commotion last spring. Those are called "summatives," which aim to show what kids have learned at the end of a semester. Muri said the formatives were first used last year. (They included math and language arts tests in grades preK-8, as well as fifth and eighth grade science. In high schools: English I, Algebra I, biology, U.S. history and civics and economics).

CMS is expanding the number of formatives this year to fill in subject areas where no formatives were offered. Muri said CMS is adding science and social studies in grades preK-8, and high schools will add English II, III and IV, Algebra II, geometry, chemistry, world history and earth/environmental science. The existing tests were also updated, with input from teams of teachers who met over the summer. The obvious question: are the formatives expanding because of the controversial introduction of the summatives last spring? Muri said no -- at least not in a specific sense of one causing the other. The only connection, he said, lies in the general sense that CMS is expanding its overall testing program to give teachers more feedback on student performance. The goal of the tweaks with the formatives, he said, is "just to improve, to make sure what we're doing is as effective as it can be."

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