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Local Catholic grade schools revamp to ‘21st-century’ exams
August 23rd, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz

Put away those No. 2 pencils.

What has been a September ritual for Catholic elementary school students is undergoing a 21st-century revamp this year in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

This year all parish elementary schools will adopt Renaissance STAR 360 for year-round standardized testing. Students will take mathematics and English language arts tests with adaptive computer software, as the Department of Catholic Schools discards the fill-in-the-bubble Iowa Standardized Testing used for decades. St. Brigid and St. Thomas More schools, which report directly to the Department of Catholic Schools, will also make the change.

“The biggest help is going to be for our students who struggle,” said Pamela Lyons, assistant superintendent for faith formation and curriculum. “You can really see where they struggle and then get lesson ideas to help those students. I think that’s going to be great.”

“In the past all of our schools have done the Iowa test,” Lyons said. “It gave us a snapshot, at that day in September, this is what that student can do. We got no further consistent data until the following September. What if a student has a bad day that day? We needed to move to something better.”

The STAR test is different than the Iowa test because depending on how the student answers a question, the next question will become either harder or easier. The goal is to find out what the student does know. STAR testing is already used by most Catholic dioceses in California, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Oakland, Lyons said.

Instead of once a year testing in September, the schools will test students in September, January and May. The tests will be shorter – about 20 minutes each, she said. The data will inform teachers about what their class grasps and where the class as a whole and individuals are academically.

All archdiocesan elementary schools will also adopt SchoolSpeak Lite to track student and teacher contact information and demographic data. The two systems work hand-in-hand so that STAR results are compiled and shared with the administration using the information provided about students by SchoolSpeak.

Some schools are already using the expanded version of SchoolSpeak for attendance, gradebooks and other school tasks, Lyons said. This year the Department of Catholic Schools is mandating that all diocesan elementary schools use SchoolSpeak Lite which will give the Schools Department information on students, contact information and ethnicity and other demographic data, and information on teachers, including their contact information.

Until now, the only information the central administration of archdiocesan Catholic schools had were principals’ contact information. All other teacher and any student data was in files in boxes and on handwritten sheets of paper that were intermittently updated and kept in a file room, Lyons said. “It is bringing us into the 21st century,” Lyons said. “We are coming a long way from having pretty much nothing. Yes, this is a huge change.”

The National Catholic Educational Association requests student demographic data every year, and in the past it has been a labor intensive job using Excel spread sheets to compile information provided by the individual schools to the Department of Catholic Schools. From now on, compiling the data will be done quickly by pressing a few buttons because all the information will be entered at the beginning of the year in SchoolSpeak, Lyons said.

Adapting to using the increased student information provided by the Star testing program will require some training for teachers and thus additional cost the first year, Lyons said. There will be nine training days for teachers and administrators, she said.

From August 25, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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