Fifth and seventh graders prepare for annual testing

Exams rank students' academic abilities, checks for improvement areas

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007

Not all students share her excitement, but Gastineau Elementary School fifth grader Melanya Mason likes standardized tests.

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"The bubble tests are easier because the answer is already there. You just have to pick the right one," the 11-year-old said.

She'll get to take tests to her heart's content next week. For three days, fifth and seventh graders across the district will take the Terra Nova test, which helps Alaska educators see how their students are doing and compare them to one another.

The exam is the second most important test of the year for fifth and seventh graders, after the state test for the No Child Left Behind Act. That state assessment test is in April.

Haley Mertz is clearly not feeling stressed.

"I like bubble tests," she said. "I think they're easier than having to write the answer."

Gastineau Principal Angela Lunda said she and her staff use the tests to tweak the curriculum.

"At the beginning of every year we sit down and look at the data," she said.

They check to see where kids are lacking and ratchet up the curriculum in areas of performance.

Lunda and other educators said the test is a tool for gauging achievement, but she says it shouldn't be seen as the only tool. It's just "one piece of information" to determine student performance.

Other things to consider are grades, the writing assessment, the state performance assessment and teacher input.

"It's a complete picture," she said. "I put more stock in what a teacher says about a student."

Phil Loseby, curriculum and assessment coordinator for the district, agreed.

"The teacher is going to have the most complete knowledge as to how the student is performing."

Loseby said the test is a "snapshot" of how a group students are performing right then. Cathy Anderegg, assessment administrator for the state, explained it a different way.

"I can take the test and pass it, and take the test in three months and not pass it," she said.

Lunda said she tries to make that snapshot as good as possible. The teachers at Gastineau don't "teach to the test," but they are rigorous and teach in a way so that the test and the curriculum line up.

"We're teaching what we think is good for them," she said.

She said her staff tries to make the event as low-stress as possible.

"We try to encourage them to do their best, but we tell them it's not a life-or-death issue," she said.

• Will Morris can be reached at

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