The Woodward News

May 3, 2013

Retesting option involves difficult decisions

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, those students who experienced disruptions during state mandated testing on Monday and Tuesday will have the opportunity to retest.

A press release issued by the Education Department late Wednesday stated that "all students who did not obtain a proficient or higher score and were disrupted must retest as is the normal practice."

In addition, the release states, "an option is being provided for those who answered enough questions correctly to qualify for a proficient or advanced score."

While those passing the test with proficient or better "will be excused from the retesting requirement," they will be "allowed to retest if they desire," the release states.

Susan Viles, district testing coordinator for Woodward Public Schools, said she was in favor of students having the option to retest.

"I hope they are all given that opportunity," Viles said.  "I know some students will say, 'hey, I passed,' but some might say, 'I think I could do better.'"

Viles said the whole issue with the testing disruptions "just wasn't fair."

"Personally I think if the student was disrupted and not given a standardized testing environment, they should have the choice, the opportunity to earn the best possible score.  The students have worked hard all year, the teachers have worked hard all year.  They deserve that chance," Viles said.



EXTENSION TO TESTING PERIOD NOT LONG ENOUGH

For those students who retest, the Education Department said "another form of the test will be provided during this testing window."

But while the testing window has been extended by 2 days to make up for the lost time due to the disruptions in testing earlier this week, school districts will have to act fast to schedule the retests.  Especially for those needing to retest in 3rd through 8th grades, as the grade level testing window was only extended until next Tuesday, May 7.  

Superintendent Tim Merchant said of the 2-day extension for the middle school level, "yes that helps, but it is not adequate enough time to disseminate the information we need to to parents and to the students and have to make that decision by."

"Because we had to make that decision by this afternoon in order to invalidate those tests and turn around and order new testing and to develop a plan to get testers, to get monitors to be able to implement the tests," Merchant said.

The high school testing window for End of Instruction (EOI) exams have been extended from a May 10 deadline until May 14, which gives school officials and students all next week to consider retesting options.

Beyond having more time to make the retesting decision on the high school level, Viles said the high school students who retest will be provided with an "online equivalent form" which will be more immediately and easily accessed, pending no additional connectivity problems.

In comparison she said the middle school retesting is more difficult because "when we invalidate a test there, there is not an online equivalent form we can give them.  So if we choose to invalidate, they have to ship us, overnight, paper and pencil tests."

Which means that the district will have to order the new tests today in order to have them shipped and arrive by Monday in time for students to retest by Tuesday's deadline.  Merchant said that at least 53 new tests, including both the 8th grade reading and math exams, were being ordered "for sure."

This creates some difficulties because some middle school students weren't even made aware that they may be on the borderline and might want to consider retesting until Thursday.  Merchant said those students were "encouraged to visit with their parents and have their parents contact the school" about whether they would like to choose to retest.

However, with school out today, there is not much opportunity for the 8th graders or their parents to request a retest.  But Merchant said that parents interested in requesting a new test for their student can still try to contact District Test Coordinator Susan Viles today at 256-6063 ext. 3326.

"We're still trying to work with the State Department of Education to let them know our issues and concerns and try to get a further extension than just 2 days, but I don't know that we'll get that," Merchant said.  "It doesn't look very favorable."



STUDENTS "TAKING THE RISK AND THE GAMBLE"

For many, Merchant said the decision whether to retest is a difficult one.  

Especially as it was difficult for the school district to try to even determine which students might be on the borderline.  The superintendent said that school officials essentially had to try and guess.

"The most frustrating part in the way they are doing this with those 8th grade students that were testing on Monday and Tuesday and having all the issues and problems, is that they will not release their scores, the cut scores as to what is proficient and what is not," Merchant said.  "The testing company (CTB/McGraw Hill) is absolutely refusing to do that."

He said this means that school officials "are having to guess what we think might be the cut score and there is no way we can do that."

Essentially, he said the district is using the cut scores from last year's tests, which really isn't that helpful.

"By past experience the same cut score that was proficient last year is not necessarily the same one that will be this year," he said.

Even more than not being comparable year-to-year, Merchant said that "we have even seen it in the past that the different forms of the same test, where some students are taking form 1 and some are taking form 2, even different forms within a test will have different cut scores."

But with no other real direction or way to judge scores, Merchant said the district is just having to base its retesting decisions on how students' raw scores this year compare to last year's cut scores.

"Those who were well below last year's proficiency level, we've already set and ordered for them to retest," he said.

It is for those students who "are on the borderline," who scored close to last year's proficiency level where the difficult decisions have to be made, he said.

"With those students who scored at least fairly well, we have to be careful in our advisement to them on whether to retest," Merchant said, noting, "We don't want to advise them in the wrong way to go."

For example, he said "if last year 34 was the cut score to be proficient and if they scored a 34 right now, we're coming to them and saying, 'well we think you have passed.'  But they may not, especially when they're hitting the test that close.  Because if we encourage them and advise them don't retake the test, then all of a sudden it may come out that 35 is the cut score."

On the other hand it is possible that the student may have earned a proficient score, but decide to retest because they aren't sure and "they have a bad day as so often happens when testing," Merchant said.

"We don't want to advise them to retest and have something happen and them not be able to pass it," he said.

So when making the decision whether to retest or not, the superintendent said these students on the borderline "are taking the risk and the gamble."

"The catch-22 on this is that the student cannot take the higher of the 2 scores," he said, noting if they choose to retest, "we have to invalidate the test they took this week and it is just wiped out."