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DCASapalooza!

March 12, 2012

Yes, there will be not one but two rounds of DCAS tests this spring, with the testing “window” opening today and not closing again until June 1, twelve weeks later. This means your child could have a DCAS test at any moment, quite possibly without warning or advance notice.

It may or may not be a good idea to allow students the opportunity to take the test again and maximize their score, since the spring score is the one that reveals growth since the fall. That is debatable.

My objection is in keeping the testing window open for twelve weeks. DCAS testing is enormously disruptive to a school, especially when you don’t know when the tests are coming. It’s like waiting for the cable guy to come. I would encourage each school to narrow their own windows as much as possible, and post the new dates prominently on all their available channels of communication. And then to notify each parent in advance of their child’s DCAS test dates.

In our school at least, at DCAS time computer labs are shut down for testing, stress placed on library computer facilities, class schedule shifted and instruction time lost, due dates skewed and miscommunicated, regular computer lab classes placed in holding rooms, and more. And then again for make-up testing.

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Until this year, there was one round of DCAS in the fall, one in the winter, and another in the spring. The possibility of a second spring DCAS had been mentioned earlier in DDOE documents, but it seems the parental notification came as part of the 2/24 letter notifying parents of Winter DCAS scores:

In the spring, students will take the test two times in Reading and Math and their highest score will count. If your child receives a Performance Level 4 the first time taking the test and you do not want him or her to take it the second time, please contact your child’s guidance counselor

Whatever you think about DCAS, it’s important to keep after your school to make sure they inform you in advance when your child’s actual test dates are. The schools need to update their individual calendars to narrow down their DCAS window, and then they need to inform each parent at least a few days in advance when their child’s DCAS tests will be. The schools have no shortage of ways to communicate with parents; let’s see if we can get them to use them. Backpack letters, email, robo-calls, schedules posted on school web sites… it’s not rocket science.

I’d suggest NOT opting out of either test. Taking the test again improves test-taking skills, and it is a rare opportunity to practice on the real test with zero risk of negative consequences.

It is a well-known testing phenomenon that people will generally receive a higher score the second time they take a test. Even if your child scores PL4, the scale for a PL4 goes from 850-1300 points (as of Winter 2012) and there is always room for improvement.

Otherwise, I’m not really sure what the rationale for the second test is. Commenter NCS Insider says there was some parent objection on the grounds that only the spring test counted. I don’t recall that debate, but I could have missed it.

By “only the spring test counted,” I assume that refers to the fact that since Delaware is using a growth model, the important number is the improvement (or not) between fall and spring DCAS scores.

But now we have simply loaded too many expectations on DCAS. By tying teacher evaluations, grant money, and the fate of individual schools to this test, it barely functions as a test anymore.

Back in my school days, we would have one standardized test per year (or maybe two, I forget). They’d just herd us all into the cafeteria, we’d bubble in our answers, and then we were done. It was some off-the-shelf national test, and it yielded state percentiles and national rankings. Now we can’t even do that anymore.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the growth model and test-based accountability tied to funding are fads that are causing more trouble than they are worth.

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  1. John Young
    March 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

    “I’d suggest NOT opting out of either test. Taking the test again improves test-taking skills, and it is a rare opportunity to practice on the real test with zero risk of negative consequences. ”

    then

    “But now we have simply loaded too many expectations on DCAS. By tying teacher evaluations, grant money, and the fate of individual schools to this test, it barely functions as a test anymore.”

    If you weigh your second statement more heavily than the first, then there is a solid rationale for OPTing out completely. As a parent, you have that right. Just would like to point that out.

  2. John Young
    March 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Also, we are on a growth model, so 2 shouts at the ultimate test gives better chance to show growth from fall test.

    I have a few Qs though:

    1) Can we see breakdown of how many get “better” from the fall score on the SECOND spring DCAS this year?

    2) Do we no invalidate last years growth numbers as a comparison because they only had ONE shot at SPRING test while this year there are TWO?

  3. Coolspringer
    March 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Nice post, Mike!

    My daughter’s teacher suggested at the last parent-teacher meeting that I opt her out of the second test. I was a little surprised since I do enjoy seeing the progress, but since she already scored PL4s in winter and isn’t likely to regress, her teacher felt it would be a waste of time better spent learning. I definitely appreciated direct feedback on that! She didn’t hide her disdain for the uncertainty on testing dates or the extra testing most kids will endure. (And this is a teacher who serves in leadership roles on school, state & national levels – I trust her POV.)

    And I absolutely lament that we don’t get to see state/national percentiles and rankings. That was the metric I liked to look out as a kid and one I’d certainly like to see as a parent.

    As for tying testing results to funding and using them as a public flog that fuels choices that don’t tell a school’s whole story which has hurt schools overall – it’s a no brainer for me to be against that.

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