Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Case 21 Tests and Single Subject Acceleration

A brief note about Case 21's, for those of you who aren't familiar with them ...

Case 21 tests are benchmark assessments administered at NC schools periodically throughout the year.  The tests typically have anywhere from 50 questions on them and take an hour or so to complete, and they are administering them this year to students as early as second grade.  It's my experience that many parents are only vaguely aware of them, since the school typically keeps them under the radar.

The tests are aligned with the EOG's and the Common Core curriculum and are meant solely as a tool for teachers to periodically see whether their students are learning the required material.  However, at least in Wake County, and at least according to our school's AIG teacher, Central Office is encouraging the use of a student's results on the Case 21 tests as an indicator of whether that student is an appropriate candidate for higher level AIG services, specifically Single Subject Acceleration.

Single Subject Acceleration or SSA, by the way, is a new offering by WCPSS, in which certain identified academically gifted students may be able to remain in their current grade, but take Math or English with a higher grade level.  Though this is being offered at both the elementary and middle school levels, it seems more suited to middle school since that is when students begin changing classes for each subject. At the elementary level, it's logistically difficult to provide a situation in which a handful of students are being taught at the higher level - it would require some planning, I think, to put this in place, and since it's so new, individual schools are still trying to work it out.  At our school, the current solution is for students to learn via an online format.

But back to Case 21 and how they factor into SSA and other interventions typically available to students...

The shortcomings of Case 21 are these (aside from the fact that it's yet another test):  This year, the first year that Common Core has been put into practice, is what I would call a norming year.  In other words, everything is in the process of being realigned.  So the Case 21 test questions are being written to try to match up with the new Common Core curriculum, but it's going to take some time before that happens accurately.  For example, some of the questions administered, say, on the second quarter Case 21, include material that may not have been covered yet by the teacher in class, because they're trying to normalize standards for what is taught when and that doesn't yet align with the schedule of questions on the Case 21's.  Additionally, some of the results for certain questions had to be thrown out, as they were found to have been flawed in some way - either poorly written, or containing more than one correct answer, or the like.  So the actual student score is not much of an indicator of anything.

This would be all fine and good, but if it's true that WCPSS is encouraging administrators to use the scores as a determining factor for access to SSA, then there's a problem.  Clearly, the tests aren't a reliable indicator for the reasons stated above, and in fact, there should be a whole host of criteria that is used for consideration of things like SSA.  After all, the schools certainly require an unwieldy battery of aptitude tests to determine students eligibility for initial access to AIG offerings.

It's true that SSA is relatively new, and I'm sure WCPSS is trying to work out the kinks which, like all things involved in government and education takes far longer than it should.  But this seems like a far too simplistic approach, and therefore, what's the point?  If this is how they, or individual AIG teachers, plan on determining students for additional services, then they're not going to be appropriately reaching all students who may qualify and that is fundamentally flawed.