The task of monitoring academic progress among Decatur City Schools students has become far more difficult after standardized tests were canceled last spring due to COVID-19, according to an administrator.
Decatur City Schools accountability and special programs supervisor Tony Willis said the gap in test data due to school closures last spring makes it difficult to assess student progress between the spring of 2019 and the spring of 2020.
“The impact is huge, in that it takes away a good measure of growth and progress that has been normalized and proven to be reliable measures of student achievement and growth,” Willis said.
Willis said the gap in tests will also make it harder for schools to assess student growth in the spring of 2021, even if standardized tests are held normally then, because there will be no baseline data from last spring.
Willis said standardized tests are best for assessing student progress, because the data is normalized (adjusted mathematically). Other ways of assessing students — like looking at results from district assessments and Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) tests — are being used, and Willis said they indicate “tremendous growth” for the district.
“We use district and other less secure tests such as … Scantron and DIBELS. However, these are readily available to the public and less secure, (and) therefore cannot be trusted for validity like the state-secured tests,” Willis said.
Willis said the district will still be able to measure student proficiency based on standardized tests this spring, because while student growth has to be tracked over time, proficiency can be determined based on performance on an individual exam.
Alabama Education Association President Sherry Tucker said teachers are able to measure student progress without standardized test scores, and that she hopes Alabama schools will continue the current trend of decreasing the number of standardized tests students take annually.
“Educators have gone above and beyond, working so many extra hours to help their students build on their strengths and fill in learning gaps,” Tucker said. “They are doing all of this without analyzing a standardized test score from last school year. A student is more than a test score, and our great educators have always known this.”
Tucker said students often feel a lot of pressure to perform well on standardized tests.
“Many students suffer from anxiety and stress because of the pressure to do well on tests. Our state leaders have decreased the amount of testing in K-12 schools in recent years, and I hope that they will continue to do so,” she said.
Morgan County Schools Director of Secondary Education Patrick Patterson said day-to-day classroom learning is not impacted by the gap in standardized testing.
“Our classroom instruction is driven by the standards outlined on the Alabama Course of Study. Additionally, our teachers utilize standards-based, formative assessments, and the (Response to Intervention) process in order to support the instructional needs of each student,” he said. “Consequently, state summative assessments have very little impact on daily instruction.
"The academic success of our students is not contingent on standardized test scores, but rather upon the instruction provided by our amazing classroom teachers.”