State-mandated tests measure knowledge, career readiness

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 10, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
Local students in eighth and 10th grades will take state-mandated tests this month to measure academic knowledge and determine career readiness.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction adopted the ACT suite of exams including the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT for the 2012-13 school year.
“These assessments are meant to provide usable information that will guide instruction and help a student and parents get an early idea as to the student’s academic strengths and areas where improvement will be needed for the student to be ready get further education or to enter (their) career of interest upon graduation,” said Colby Cochran, director of assessment and accountability for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
All high school juniors took the ACT for the first time last year. The curriculum-based measure of college readiness tests academic achievement in English, math, reading, science and writing. It can often be submitted to colleges and universities in lieu of the SAT.
Sophomores took the PLAN, a test that serves as a midpoint measure of academic progress, last year.
The EXPLORE assessment will be given statewide for the first time this month.
“EXPLORE is administered to help eighth-graders explore a broad range of options for their future and provides a baseline score of achievement in English, mathematics, reading and science,” Cochran said.
Kelly Burgess, director of student assessment for the Kannapolis City school system, said the test includes an interest inventory to get students thinking about the future.
“These results can help students find careers that match their interests,” she said.
Rowan-Salisbury is currently administering the PLAN and EXPLORE tests, Kannapolis will give the exams Oct. 18. Students in both districts will take the ACT during March 2013.
“The logic behind the sequencing and administration of these assessments is sound and really makes a lot of sense,” Cochran said. “EXPLORE and PLAN are administered in October so we can get the information back during the first semester and be able to use it to help students during the current school year.”
Cochran said by taking the ACT in March, students are halfway through their spring block courses with time to spare to make adjustments to their senior year schedule.
“Citizens, employers and colleges want to see students exit the K-12 education system ready to move forward without remediation,” he said. “In order to do that we must measure where students are early and often.”
Burgess said all three tests will help students determine if they are on the right track.
“The assessment results can identify students’ academic strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “The result reports that will be produced by ACT will help students, parents, counselors and school personnel create academic plans to help students address their learning deficits and meet their goals for after high school graduation.”
Cochran said school officials have been encouraging students to do their best on the tests even though the scores won’t be a factor in their final grades.
“These are not tests to evaluate the teacher, judge the school or system, but to realistically show students where they are in relation to where they want to be when they are no longer in school and, most importantly, what they need to do while they are still in school to get there,” he said. “For once this is not about the teacher’s standards in a sheltered school environment, but the real-world standards that employers and colleges have set as ‘must-haves’ for the workers and students they will get in the future,”
Cochran said by doing their best on the tests students are taking ownership in their learning.
“The information we get back is intended to help students be successful and it will only be as good as the effort and thought students put into the test when they are taking it,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

• Scores can be submitted to colleges in lieu of the SAT 
• Taken by high school juniors during March 2013

• Results can be used to determine if students are likely to be successful in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which are college-level courses offered to high school students
• Taken by sophomores during October 

• Pinpoints strengths and weaknesses 
• Educators can identify areas of academic risk and intervene 
•  Teachers and counselors can use scores as an advising tool
• Interest inventory help students develop career and training option
• Students who take EXPLORE and PLAN earn higher average scores on the ACT than those who don’t 
• Taken by eighth-graders during October 

Note: All three are curriculum-based tests include English, math, science and reading sections.  They measure the skills and knowledge deemed important for success in first-year coursework at postsecondary institutions.