Reflections in the Middle of “Test Week”

We have passed the mid-week mark during MCA’s administration of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. One of the noticeable differences around our campus has been the fact that I’ve been able to close the front door when the flow of students into the building stops around 8:25 a.m. which is ten minutes earlier than normal. So that’s a big “thank you” to parents for helping to make this week run just a bit easier. The lower grades try to time their tests to finish before their 11:00a.m. lunch period, so coming in a bit early is helpful. Thanks!

Parents have become used to testing like this, in most public schools there’s far more of it, at different times of the year. We do this testing as a measure of our “average yearly progress,” our AYP in educational letter language. There are some common questions, impressions and misconceptions about AYP tests, so we try to help inform parents so they know what to expect.

Why Don’t You Give an “Illinois Test”

There are multiple tests to choose from for private schools to measure AYP. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is one of the more widely used tests and it gets its name because it was developed at the University of Iowa. But students all over the country, about 2.5 million total, will take the ITBS as an annual assessment of their skills.

The Iowa Test is based on national standards, or “norms,” and is one of the more thorough and rigorous tests available. The Association of Christian Schools International has been recommending it to its member schools for about five years now, because of its national scope and the thoroughness of its data. There are several versions and types of tests available. It matches well with our curriculum objectives and standards.

Well, But Anyway, How Well Do MCA Students Perform?

I do enjoy going over the score reports, looking at the analysis and finding places in our curriculum mapping where we can improve our instruction. But I must admit that when the scores first come out, I look at the bottom line to see how well we did as a school overall, how well each class and grade level did, and how well individual students did. I’ve been in Christian school administration for over 20 years now, at three different schools. It would be interesting to do a little research, compare the three schools, in three different settings, and figure out factors affecting the scores. That’s for another blog.

People are sometimes surprised at the academic quality of independent Christian schools. A survey conducted by a Canadian firm about six years ago, commissioned by ACSI, showed that the perception of academic quality in Christian schools does not match their actual performance. Using standardized test results, including the ITBS, the research showed that Christian schools, as a category, performed better than all other educational models except academically selective private college preparatory schools, and prep schools operated by the Quakers and Episcopalians. Christian school students performed slightly better than their Catholic school counterparts, and significantly better than students in public schools, charter schools, cyber schools and home education.

MCA students have taken the ITBS for the past two years. About three fourths of our students earn a stanine score and percentile rank that places them in the top half of test scores. In terms of percentile rank, the average composite test score in English/Language Arts and Reading is just over the 70th percentile, math just over the 65th percentile and social studies and science are slightly higher. Those percentiles are in the high average range and are excellent. So overall, as a school, our scores are one measure of a strong academic program.

Reading Iowa Test Scores

There are two scores on the test to look at to determine how well a child performed. The stanine score is recorded by a number, 1 to 9, with 9 being at the top of the scale, 4.5 being the mid-point and anything above that being better than average. The other is the percentile rank. The best way to think of this score is that if a student has a percentile rank of 75, they did better than 75% of the students who took the same test during the “normed” year, which is 2017. So if you are looking at stanine scores that are a 6 or higher, those are excellent scores. And the percentile ranks will likely correspond to the stanine numbers, with anything in the 60’s or higher being excellent.

There is always a debate over the value of such tests. As a school, we get valuable information that helps us with our curriculum alignment and where we need to improve, add objectives or change the order that we do things. They also tell us, compared to other students in other schools, whether we are teaching what is necessary for students to advance to the next grade level and whether we are teaching the expected objectives at each grade level in each subject area. The Iowa test is based on a set of national standards, though the state standards in Illinois don’t differ very much.

What our Iowa scores will tell you is that our students, as a group, are excellent students, able to learn, engaged in learning and making progress that is well above average, which is what we expect in a Christian school with a high level of parent involvement and support, smaller class sizes and a very basic, skills-based curriculum and scope and sequence. Our scores compare well with other fully accredited, private, Christian schools.

We are hoping to see our scores in a couple of weeks.

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