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Test tossing

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Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

Growing number of parents opting children out of national test

So many Newcastle school parents opted to have their children skip out taking a national test that it drew some discussion at the Weston County School District’s March 13 board meeting.

The test is the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “The Nation’s Report Card,” and educators in Newcastle have joined in with a growing number of parents who question its value.

Newcastle Middle School Principal Tyler Bartlett said at the March 13 meeting that with parent permission, in writing, students can opt out of taking the test.

This year, especially, a lot of students did.

“My impression from the state rep is that we were leading the charge in opt-outs. I just need you guys to know that I don’t know how to convince somebody to take more tests,” he said. “I have a hard enough time getting kids motivated to do that WY-TOPP test, so if parents don’t want their kid to do another one that they never get the results from and don’t have any meaning whatsoever to them in their instruction in the classroom, I’m not helping us (convince them).”

Bartlett said in an email on March 18 that staff “obviously” value assessments at the middle school and in the district, but he believes this particular test is problematic. In his experience, the NAEP, unlike classroom projects and assessments and “even” the WY-TOPP, isn’t tied to the school’s specific standards and doesn’t help teachers better meet a given student’s needs because it can’t be analyzed at the level of an individual student.

“If parents choose to opt their child out of the NAEP test, I have a hard time finding a reason to try to talk them back into taking it, especially with all the testing we already do,” he said in the email.

Newcastle Elementary School Principal Brandy Holmes said at the meeting that a record number of parents at her school also decided to opt out this year, and in the 2022-23 school year, Holmes decided to opt the school out of the test entirely because there were too many challenges to try to get it rescheduled around weather challenges. She said that she received a couple of phone calls “from the higher-ups” because she opted the school out, but there weren’t repercussions.

“And I’ll tell you, we didn’t miss anything by not doing it,” she said. “We don’t get any kind of information from that. I know in the past I’ve shared with you that I really push with staff that if we’re going to give an assessment, it needs to … we need to be able to get information out of it to drive instruction. This is one of those tests that we tack on a million that we’re already doing, and we don’t get anything that helps us improve what we’re doing out of it.”

Holmes said she wasn’t requesting specific action from the board, but Bartlett said that if he has board support, he’s willing to push for the middle school to opt out of taking the NAEP.

“If you guys will give us the blessing to just say no, by all means, I’ll go down that road. I just, I’m not quite that rebellious yet. But with nine people behind me, I can be a fighter,” Bartlett said.

Board Chair Dana Mann-Tavegia said at the meeting that she is disappointed that the test has not provided value, but she felt the board could not take action that night because it needs more information about the repercussions of opting out. She also said the item was not on the meeting agenda, and shouldn’t be considered as an action item that evening.

“We do hear you,” Mann-Tavegia said.

The Nation’s report card

According to the website of The National Center for Education Statistics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has “provided meaningful results to improve education policy and practice since 1969.”  Reports typically show state, regional and national results.

“Because NAEP is a large-group assessment, each student takes only a small part of the overall assessment. In most schools, only a small portion of the total grade enrollment is selected to take the assessment, and these students may not reliably or validly represent their total school population,” a portion of an FAQ web page says. “Only when the student scores are aggregated at the state or national level are the data considered reliable and valid estimates of what students know and can do in the content area.”

The NCES website says that school districts that receive Title I funds and are selected for the NAEP sample are also required to participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at fourth and eighth grades. Schools are selected for the assessment based on whether they are “statistically representative” of a state’s schools, and students who are picked to take the test are chosen at random to represent the country’s students, according to NCES.

The Wyoming Department of Education’s website, which shares data collected from past years’ tests, said that this test is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the country and that it compares achievement data between states and demographic groups. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that every state tests students in grades four and eight every two years, according to the department. States can also assess students in these grades every fourth year, in either writing or science. Students may opt out. It is illegal for NAEP to maintain or report information on individual students or schools.

State-by-state NAEP assessments began in 1990.

School Shorts

Notes from the March 13, 2024, meeting

of Weston County School District No. 1

• The Wyoming Department of Education wants stakeholders, including families, to provide their feedback regarding literacy as the department prepares a state literacy plan. The 2024 Literacy Needs Assessment Stakeholder Survey is due at 5 p.m. April 12.

• Superintendent Brad LaCroix said that administrators are not ready to provide the board with an update regarding what caused the lockdown/lockout that occurred on March 8 because of potential legal action against the caller who triggered the event, and the possibility that the district may be asking to press charges locally or nationally.

• Newcastle High School Principal Bryce Hoffman said that the school’s science teachers are planning to participate in Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education program for 2024-25. Computer science and STEM classes would explore creating student-centered learning classes that will be based around self-paced, project-based mastery of skills.

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