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Pinon Hills mom blasts standardized tests

by Scott Murphy

A 5th grade Pinon Hills Elementary student is being kept out of class by his mother this week in protest of the school district’s standardized testing policy.

Dr. Michelle Trusty-Murphy said her son Connor will not take the three-day Achievement Level Test that began Monday.

Trusty-Murphy says the school district will not tell her what the test is being used for. She also does not want the test used to measure her son’s abilities instead of a teacher evaluation, and she wants to know what’s in the test.

Janice Florey, director of special services and assessment for the Douglas County School District, said the test measures students’ abilities in math, reading and language use.

The tests gauge student progress toward meeting district competency levels and student standards, she said.

There are target scores for each grade level. If a student fails to meet his or her grade level, various “intervention” actions ranging from the classroom to district level are used.

Possible actions include a teacher spending more time with a student or having a child go to a reading camp during school vacation to help the child improve.

When a student falls below the district’s target, teachers work with parents to develop a personal education plan, Florey said.

Students take the ALT each year between 3rd and 9th grade, Florey said.

The students receive a standard score based on a sliding scale called the RIT score. Children are tested the next year based on their performance on the last test.

Monday, Trusty-Murphy protested the district’s decision to administer the test and solicited support for a bill in the Nevada Senate Monday across the street from Douglas High School.

She carried a sign telling students “You Are More Than a Test Score.”

Trusty-Murphy, a professor at Western Nevada Community College, does not want the test used to measure her son’s abilities in lieu of assessments by his teachers.

Tests given throughout the year covering regular schoolwork and teacher evaluations of students should carry more weight than standardized tests, she said.

Trusty-Murphy said preparation for standardized tests detract from time allotted for other activities such as music studies.

Trusty-Murphy says the school district rebuffed her attempt to learn what the ALT tests for and she could not obtain an old version of the test.

Florey said the tests are kept secret because they are reused and the district does not have funding to rewrite the tests each year.

“They’re secured tests,” she said. “If the information from the tests is made public, they’re no longer secured.”

The tests are kept in locked storage, Florey said.

Trusty-Murphy still wants to know what the tests contain.

“We have absolutely no idea what’s in (the test),” she said. ” But our kids are being judged by (the tests.)”

Trusty-Murphy said she supports Assembly Bill 64, which is labeled “Parent’s Rights in Education Testing.”

The bill calls for schools to inform parents 21 days before a standardized test is given and allows parents to “opt out” children from a test, including the High School Proficiency Exam.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled today at 3:45 p.m. before the Assembly Education Committee.

If the bill is approved, schools must provide an alternative assessment that does not include a test, such as a project or portfolio, so students can graduate or move to the next grade.

Trusty-Murphy said she is against standardized tests being used for “high stakes” educational decisions.