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School CRCTs are next week

Susan Johnson, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in grades K-5, described to the Board of Education the intense coordination that goes into administering the CRCT tests at the board’s dinner meeting Thursday night.

CRCTs, which stands for Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, are designed to measure students’ skills and knowledge, and have been given in grades first through eighth since 2000. Students will take them all next week, April 19-23.

While the tests can potentially be stressful for both the teachers and others that supervise testing, as well as the students who answer test questions for most of the school day, Johnson told the board the goal is for testing to go as smoothly as possible.

While all students receive test-taking tips in the classroom leading up to the CRCTs, special attention is given to students deemed at risk of failing the test in an attempt to help them in problem areas, particularly reading, Johnson said.

Each of the schools takes a different approach to making sure students are ready, Johnson said. At Bainbridge Middle School, some time has been “shaved off” each period to create a time block in which students who need extra help can be tutored for the CRCTs. At Hutto Middle School, some time was pulled from the “Connections” class period to have additional reading sessions.

“Hopefully, the tests will not be too stressful for the kids,” Johnson said. “We have to remember that they are only a snapshot of what a child knows on any given day.”

Tests are rigorously monitored

In addition to helping students get ready for the CRCTs, teachers, administrators and staff have been undergoing training to make sure the tests are given correctly.

The training and extra diligence on testing days stems from a controversy experienced last fall in which state education officials probed whether some school districts, primarily in larger cities like Atlanta, Augusta and Albany, had changed test answers or not.

According to media reports, there were widespread instances of test answers, which are “bubbled in” with a pencil, appearing to have been erased. The implication, although not yet proven in the cases which were examined, was that teachers—under increasing pressure to have their students perform up to state and national testing standards—could have changed students’ test answers.

Suzi Bonifay, assistant superintendent for curriculum for grades sixth through 12th, said when news broke of the controversy, she never doubted that Decatur County Schools had any problems because the system already had strict testing policies in place.

Bonifay outlined several steps that have been taken behind-the-scenes. Each school has a person designated as a test coordinator. Principals are held responsible and ultimately, Bonifay herself is responsible as the system’s test monitor. In addition to the teachers who hand out the tests to students and keep time, another staff member serves as a proctor in each classroom.

“We tell the teachers the proctors are not there because we think they might be cheating,” Bonifay said. “It’s done to protect the teacher. If something comes up, they have a witness that there were no testing violations.”

Superintendent Ralph Jones said there was a bill in the state legislature that would have made it a felony crime to change test answers, which local school officials advocated against successfully to defeat.

However, the matter of test integrity is still a very serious issue for teachers, as their certification to teach can be rescinded if they are found guilty of violating professional code of ethics regarding testing, Bonifay said.