New tests should be improvement, parents learn

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2001

[01/12/01] Public school parents and administrators were confident after an explanation Thursday that new state tests for prospective graduates will be an improvement.

“You can’t get much fairer than testing students on what they’re taught,” Dr. Judy Robbins told about 50 parents, school administrators and others at a meeting at Vicksburg Junior High School.

Robbins, director of the Office of Student Assessment for the Mississippi Department of Education, explained the policy adopted by the State Board of Education in September.

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The Subject Area Testing Program eventually will replace the Functional Literacy Exam now taken by high school juniors.

“At first I was afraid of the new tests, but now I think it’s great,” said Betty Tolliver, a parent with children in seventh and eighth grades at Vicksburg Junior High. “It’s going to make students accountable, parents accountable and principals accountable.”

Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Donald Oakes agreed. “I believe if is implemented correctly, it’s going to drive some improvement in our achievement level,” he said this week.

Under the new tests, in order to graduate, students must pass exams in Algebra I, Biology I, English II with a writing component and U.S. History since 1877. The exams are criterion-referenced tests, which means they focus on skills learned in specific subjects and are taken as each course is completed.

“There are no surprises,” Robbins said. “The students know exactly what will be on the test and exactly what to study.”

Since the tests are based on the state curriculum, teachers will cover what’s on the test, Robbins said. But she noted parents should not worry that students would be exposed only to the test material and not receive a broad base of knowledge.

“You’ve got to have local leadership to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.

Robbins explained that students who are now seventh-graders or younger will be the ones to feel the full impact of the new system. By the time they graduate, the FLE will no longer be used, and they will be required to pass all four Subject Area Tests to receive a diploma.

Students who are in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades this year will be required to pass sections of the FLE as well as parts of the new tests to graduate, she said. The first tests will be given in April.

The April tests, as well as Subject Area Tests administered at about 40 schools last fall, will not count toward graduation but instead will be evaluated to determine pass/fail scores. A committee of about 25 teachers from across the state will meet this summer for that purpose. Tests that count toward graduation will begin in the fall, Robbins said.

In the future, Robbins said, students will have three opportunities to take the tests throughout the year in the fall, the spring and at the end of the summer school session. Students will have unlimited opportunities to pass each test, she said.

The FLE, a basic skills test that will be eliminated by 2005, has been used since 1989 and is outdated, Robbins said.

“It’s been a good test, but it’s time now to raise the standards,” she said.

Junior April Ivins of Vicksburg High School took the FLE this school year and described it as “extremely easy.” She said the Subject Area Tests probably will be harder, but they will help prepare students for tests such as the ACT, a college entrance exam.

“I think some people may have a problem,” Ivins said. “But it will be better in the long run.”

“This one will be a challenge,” said Jenny Drake a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Vicksburg High. “I think it is going to make us change our approach.”

Drake said the new testing system has made her re-evaluate some of her own teaching methods.

Joanne Gibbs, Vicksburg Junior High Parent Teacher Association president and coordinator of last night’s meeting, said she was pleased with the information given by Robbins.

“I’m a strong supporter of education, particularly public education,” she said. “I love the direction that the state is going in education; we’re moving up.”