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Balance is the key for instruction and testing

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By The Staff

The mission of the Oldham County Schools is to equip each student with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete locally, nationally and worldwide for employment which enables them to meet their personal and professional goals. For this to occur we must offer a rigorous and engaging curriculum that teaches relevant subject area knowledge, vital problem solving strategies and thinking skills and requires students to demonstrate continuous application of both knowledge and skills across all subject areas. To accomplish this mission, Oldham County teacher teams design lessons from the curriculum along with matching assessments that address the following four vital questions.1. What do we want each student to know?2. How will we know when each student has learned it?3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?4. How will we respond when a student clearly has mastery of the learning standard? It is very important that educators engage students in a variety of different types of assessments to answer these four questions. For this to become a reality we must embrace a balanced accountability plan that measures student learning at all levels within the district. This includes regular individual student assessment, monitoring and supporting research-based teacher practices in each classroom, and setting academic goals at the school and district levels. For example, in mathematics our balanced program at all K-12 levels includes the following vital skills: understanding, computation, application, reasoning and engagement. In a primary school’s reading curriculum it is important that students have a solid foundation in phonics, balanced with daily opportunities to apply phonetic skills in their daily reading and writing lessons. Other vital reading skills across all grades require students to read with fluency, as they grow in their use of a strong vocabulary. Ultimately, students must demonstrate the ability to comprehend written material across all subject areas as they apply the information to real-world situations and problems. A balanced testing program including all of the above is critical in our ability to determine success with each student. In our schools, we are committed to both nationally norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. Norm-referenced tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the American College Test, provide important information to teachers, principals, and parents regarding individual student skill levels. Oldham County Schools uses the ITBS with students in first through seventh grades in reading and math. The ACT is administered to all 11th graders annually. Criterion referenced tests, such as the Commonwealth Accountability Test, require students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts and skills in each subject area through comprehensive written exams. CATS emphasizes problem solving and critical thinking skills across each subject area and is the type of test that shows a student’s ability to excel in the real world. CATS is the yardstick for measuring student achievement, and the high-stakes test that is the foundation supporting the state initiative to bring all students to a proficient level of learning. This is an outstanding goal that we must embrace and protect as we continue to move forward as a state. Because of this commitment to all students, Kentucky has moved from 49th in the nation in the early 1990s to 36th, as measured by the National Association of Educational Progress. Through a combination of on-going teacher-made assessments and high-stakes testing such as the ITBS, ACT and CATS, we are able to fully understand the learning needs of each student and shows evidence to parents, community and lawmakers that students are learning at high levels. Each of these assessments provides an individual look at a student’s learning. ITBS and ACT indicate a snapshot of a student’s skill level in a subject area. The CATS test measures how well a student can apply thinking and problem solving strategies and communicate their thinking in writing across all subject areas. This is not an either/or scenario, both types of testing are important.A solid education is supported by classroom practices that teaches and assesses all of the basic skills and the critical thinking skills necessary to become a proficient learner. It is important that teachers require all students to demonstrate their ability to apply those skills daily across the curriculum. Our continuous emphasis and expectation that each classroom teacher teach and assess both individual student knowledge and skill level with the continuous emphasis on each student’s ability to apply skills and knowledge to real world situations offers a balanced instructional and testing program for Oldham County students.

The views expressed in this column may not necessarily represent the views of The Oldham Era.