Students across Alabama take annual tests to determine if they are learning what they need to know at each grade level, and the Cullman City School Board got a look at the system’s most recent test scores and discussed what that data means during a work session on Monday.
Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said the scores from those tests are used by the Alabama State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education for accountability purposes to make sure schools are teaching to the proper standards, and to make sure students are not falling behind in their learning and are on the right track for college or a career once they graduate.
The test results are also used for the state’s school report cards that are usually issued each year to grade schools and school systems, but the state did not issue the report cards last year or this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Kallhoff also spoke about the history of standardized testing for the state’s students, and how the repeated switching of tests and testing standards have made it difficult to track year-to-year trends.
He said high school standardized testing has remained the same since the state did away with graduation exams in 2013. Since then, the ACT has been used in the state’s accountability measurements and for college admission purposes.
Every eleventh grader in the state takes the test for free for school accountability purposes, and students have the option to take the test multiple times to improve their scores for college admission, he said.
For grades 3-8, the recent history of the state’s summative assessments is a little more complicated.
From 2003-2013, the state used the Alabama Reading and Math Test, which was not considered to be a very rigorous test and was used for accountability purposes as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Kallhoff said.
When the state decided to move to a more rigorous test, students took the ACT Aspire test for a few years for accountability purposes, but that also had it’s own problems, he said.
That test was meant to determine elementary students’ trajectories for the ACT that they would later take in high school, but did not match up with the state’s standards, meaning some of the concepts covered in the test were not being taught in the classroom and vice versa, Kallhoff said.
“The rigor was much, much greater than ARMT, but it wasn’t our standards,” he said.
After the state decided to move away from ACT Aspire testing and develop its own test that follows Alabama’s standards, schools used the Scantron test for the last two years as a placeholder while that test was being designed.
Earlier this year, students took the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program summative assessment for the first time after it was developed and tested by the state education department.
The ACAP assessment measures a child’s proficiency in English, reading and math in grades 2-8 and science in grades 4, 6 and 8 and will be used by the state and federal department of education for school accountability purposes. The ACAP assessment’s third grade reading scores will also be used retention purposes — or determining if a child should be held back a grade — but the details of that have not yet been released by the state, Kallhoff said.
As part of the ACAP assessment, students’ scores will be sorted into four levels, with Level 1 being students who are behind in their education and Level 4 being students who are ahead of the state’s standards. For the state’s purposes, students who score in Level 3 or 4 in a subject will be considered proficient, he said.
While the Scantron test and ACAP assessment cover the same basic subjects of English, math and science, the scores from one test can’t be compared to the scores from the other because they are not testing the same concepts or ideas, Kallhoff said.
“There’s nothing to compare it to,” he said.
Because the ACAP assessment was new for 2021, this year’s scores will be used as a baseline and will be compared to next year’s results to determine student growth, he said.
However, this year’s scores in the system can be compared with the scores of other school systems around the state, and the Cullman City School System’s scores across all grade levels are higher than the state average, he said.
Kallhoff said the system’s administration has compiled an internal list of 29 other school systems in the state that are of a similar academic level or at the level that the city school system is aspiring to attain, and there are a few areas in which the system is already near the top and some other areas that need improvement and will be a focus in the coming year.
“Our goal, as we established earlier this summer, is to be top five in every student category there is,” he said.