Assessment, AYP, and the ECS School Report Card


Assessment at ECS

In the world of education today, we hear an awful lot about high stakes testing.  High stakes testing like PSSA is one way that we assess our students at ECS, but there are many different types of assessment teachers use to measure student achievement and growth.  Teachers assess students almost daily, sometime formally and sometimes informally, as we are always trying to gain an understanding of what students know and what they still need.  Assessments come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.  Types of assessment you might hear about include: diagnostic assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment and benchmark assessment.  All of these types of assessment are valuable, and while we mostly hear about the importance of high-stakes testing like PSSA, it’s important to understand the value of using multiple types of assessment.

Diagnostic assessments measure students’ skills before we begin a certain task or unit of study.  This mostly informs teachers of students’ readiness to learn about the topic and identifies areas of need before the unit or lesson begins.  Diagnostic assessments can also help teachers determine their plan for teaching the material.  Maybe some students need to gain background information, while others are ready to begin immediately.  Teachers can create multiple goals for students with the use of these assessments.  These assessments can be formal like a written pre-test, or can be informal like a conference with a student.

Benchmark assessments measure students’ progress based against the same learning standards repeatedly throughout the year.  Repeated use of these benchmark assessments allows teachers to understand student growth against the standards and alter the curriculum to appropriately meet the needs of the student at that time.  The MAP assessments that students began taking this year are one type of benchmark assessment. 

Formative assessment is on-going assessment that tells teachers about what students are learning as they progress through a lesson or unit.  Formative assessment can be as simple as an exit slip before leaving the class or a brief question and response with a student, or it can be as formal as a quiz or an essay.  Formative assessment is used as an informative tool to help teachers understand whether they need to review a certain concept, or move more quickly because the students understand.  Teachers also use formative assessment to help them create small groups of students or individual learning goals for different individuals. 

Summative assessments are those assessments given at the end.  Many teachers at ECS use written summative assessments at the end of a unit, but high-stakes tests like the PSSA are also considered summative assessments, because they assess if the student has mastered the skills set in the Pennsylvania standards for that grade level.  Most summative assessments are intended to inform the teachers about what a student learned during a whole unit and evaluate the student’s achievement based on that information. 

More about Testing

The MAP tests stand for Measures of Academic Progress and are computer-based assessments, which are given three times per year: once in the fall, once mid-year, and once at the end of the year. This is considered one type of benchmark assessment.  These assessments provide a baseline for student learning by telling teachers the students’ current levels against the standards, as well as what they should be ready to learn next.  Additionally, teachers can use these tests to inform instructional decisions like what to focus on and how to provide students with all of the help they need.  This system provides more useful data for teachers than some of the benchmark testing systems ECS has used in the past.  This information travels with students from year to year as a way to inform instructional decisions for students and show growth.

PSSA tests are given at ECS in compliance with state laws for public schools.  Students at ECS take PSSA’s in several subject areas. PSSA stands for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.  Students in grades 3-8 all take PSSA’s in reading and math.  Additionally, grade 4 takes a science PSSA and grade 5 takes writing.  In 8th grade, students will take another science PSSA.  PSSA’s test the Pennsylvania State Standards, which state what students should be able to do by the end of each grade level.

PSSA tests are a snapshot in time, a picture of that child completing an assessment of those skills on that particular day.  In addition to other data sources, and other assessments, student scores are used to understand student’s mastery of the standards in that grade level.  Unfortunately, with state mandated tests, students cannot retake the test if they perform poorly, but will have the opportunity to test again the following year.

In addition to PSSA’s, this year students at ECS also started doing MAP testing, which stands for Measures of Academic Progress.  The MAP tests are supplied by the Northwest Evaluation Association, and are aligned with the state and common core standards.  ECS tests students in grades K-2 in reading and math, and in grades 3-7 in reading, language, and math.  Fourth grade also takes a science MAP assessment. 

What is different about testing at ECS?

These days, we hear about a lot of schools and teachers “teaching to the test”.  When people say this, they mean teachers are using the same methods of instruction as you find on the PSSA, which is often very repetitive.  In classrooms like this you might see a lot of skill and drill, worksheets, fill in the bubbles, or memorization.  This type of teaching doesn’t require much discovery, application, or deeper understanding, but prepares students solely to take that test.

At ECS, we use the standards that are assessed on the test to create a curriculum that uses those standards-based skills but requires higher-level thinking and learning, is centered on student discovery and is authentic in origin.  For example, students might actually research something they are wondering, or experiment about why a particular phenomenon works and then explain it.  Students are still prepared for the PSSA because they understand the state standards and can apply those skills, but have been taught in a more authentic way. 

Test Implementation and Preparing for Tests

Students who take PSSA’s at ECS do spend some time in each individual subject area preparing for these high-stakes tests.  This is not to “teach to the test” but to help the students understand the test as another genre of reading and writing, or another place where they can be mathematicians.  In math, individual test-taking lessons are incorporated into each unit.  In Literacy, test-taking lessons make up one two-week long unit dedicated to testing as a genre.  The language of the tests is sometimes different than we speak about reading, writing, math or science daily.  So, this time is mostly used to help students understand how to interpret the tests and tackle them successfully.  During this time, students are exposed to the format of the test, answer sample test questions and learn how to apply the thinking and skills they have learned all year to the test they are about to take.

How can I prepare my student?

Parents are notified about the tests through the Wednesday Word, school calendar, grade level newsletter, and ECS website. Look for this information to begin coming home as we get closer to the tests.  This year PSSA’s will be during the weeks of: 

  • 5th grade Writing: March 11-15, 2013
  • 3rd-7th grade Reading and Math: April 8 – 19, 2013
  • 4th grade Science: April 22-26

Parents can prepare their students by making sure they get plenty of sleep and eat healthy the week leading up to the PSSA test.  The tests can be draining, so making sure that students get plenty of sleep during the week of the test is really important as well.  Ensure students that they have nothing to be worried about when taking these tests.  Explain to them that the tests simply assess all of the skills they’ve been learning throughout the year in school.  Encourage them to take the test seriously and try their best, but not to stress over it. 

Environmental Charter School's 2011-2012 Report Card

Please note there is an error on the Teacher Qualifications page. It indicates that 22 courses are being taught by non-highly qualified teachers. In fact all of ECS's teachers are highly qualified and certified in their area of instruction. 

The link to our 2011-2012 Report Card:

PSSA 2012: District/School Comparisons

District/School Comparisons