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Middle schools finish first year of using benchmark assessments to track progress, drive curriculum

Carroll County Public School administrators are using newly added middle school benchmark assessments to help drive curriculum and address problem areas in Carroll's schools.

The assessments, which test middle school students on English language arts (ELA) and math, were given in Carroll for the first time this past school year. Similar assessments have been given at the elementary school level for the past few years.

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What these assessments do, Hill said, is allow CCPS to ask questions like what's scoring low and what's scoring high, and what are the reasons behind the scores. The assessments can identify if the issue is how the question was asked, how the information was taught and if the students need a second opportunity to learn it.

"This just gives us a much more in-depth look rather than waiting for the [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] exams and making changes reactively," he said, referring to the PARCC assessments that are mandated for Maryland public school students.

The tests also help predict how students will do on PARCC assessments, McCabe said. And what's great about these benchmarks, she said, is it allows teachers to make adjustments quickly and in time for PARCC.

"We want to be able to tell during the school year if our students are going to be able to meet those expectations," she added.

Elementary schools have been giving benchmark exams for the past few years, McCabe said. Students are usually given these assessments toward the end of second grade, and they include a Comprehension Benchmark Assessment and a Scholastic Reading Inventory Assessment.

The CBA is made up of both multiple choice and essay questions, she said.

"It looks a lot like what students are going to face when they see PARCC," she said.

The SRI exams are online and break down exactly on what level a child is reading — called a Lexile level, she added. These can be matched with codes on books to help parents and teachers find reading material on the right level for children, she said.

"It's very, very helpful for parents. It's also helpful for teachers," McCabe said

For middle school students, the benchmarks are a little different, Hill said.

Math uses Discovery Education Software, and questions mirror the PARCC assessment experience, he said. But for the ELA portion, the exam is focusing on areas of concern brought about from other test scores, he said.

"It's targeting our students' writing ability," he said.

Hill said they've wanted to have benchmark assessments at the middle school level for a while now, but have had to deal with changing curricula. And while the ELA benchmark assessments are working to deal with an immediate need, it will eventually evolve into a more comprehensive assessment, he said.

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The middle school data, because it only has one year of information, is a baseline and can't be compared to anything, Hill said. The numbers of students meeting standards is low — in the 40- to 60-percent range, as opposed to the elementary scores, which range mostly from the 70- to 80-percent range.

"Your scores tend to start out lower," he said, adding that this trend has been seen in previous exams given. But, Hill said, adjustments are made in teaching, and the scores almost always go up.

The data looking at the year-to-year change will be important, he said.

"That longitudinal data is really going to be important in the future," Hill said.

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