Achievement Level Tests (ALT) assessing students in the basic skills of reading, language, and math |

Achievement Level Tests (ALT) assessing students in the basic skills of reading, language, and math

by Maggie Allen

Testing has become a fact of life for students nationwide. In an effort to make schools more accountable, the public is asking that students be tested to ensure that they are competent in the basic skill areas. In response to these demands, states are mandating tests in reading, writing, and math skills, which students must pass in order to graduate. Nevada is no exception to this trend.

In addition, Douglas County School District (DCSD) is implementing competency-based graduation, which will affect the graduating class of 2002. The competencies – in communication, math, science, social studies, and technology – are well matched to the state competencies. Based on feedback from the business and community sectors, DCSD has also added foreign language and employability.

Because DCSD must know exactly where students are in each competency in order to address their learning needs, achievement level tests (ALT) have been designed to assess students in the basic skills of reading, language, and math. At a later date, science (physical, life, and earth) and American history and government knowledge will be tested.

Since this year’s 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students are the first students to be tested, it is important for all members of the community to understand the ALTs not only as parents but also as future employers and community members.

– What are ALTs?

ALTs are assessments based on the communications and mathematics competency objectives taught to DCSD students. The tests are designed to answer the question, “Can students demonstrate that they have learned the communications and mathematics competency objectives?”

The ALTs are made a series of tests that increase in difficulty in the content areas of reading, language usage, and mathematics. Each test contains items that are more difficult than those on the preceding level and easier than those in the next higher level.

The level of the test a student takes is determined by his/her performance on a locator test. The results can be used to show student achievement growth. In addition, student achievement scores can be compared to that of students in the same grade level. Parents receiving student scores can refer to the enclosed brochure they receive which explains this process.

– How were they designed?

In conjunction with Northwest Evaluation Association, DCSD English and mathematics teachers selected valid and reliable items from an item bank, which matched the learning objectives for each competency. These tests were then piloted and finalized for use with students.

Secondary tests were administered in April and May. A parent report and an ALT brochure will be sent to the parents of each student who took the ALTs. Beginning next school year, students in the 3rd grade will be tested in both the fall and spring to establish skill baselines. In addition, students in grades 4-9 will be given ALTs each spring. Those students who do not meet the competency cut score by ninth grade will re-take the tests during their high school years.

– What will be done with the results?

Parents will be mailed the results yearly. Site Accountability Committees at each school will look at the results in regard to their specific students and design programs, which will either give students more time and opportunity to achieve competency or give them opportunities to expand their learning beyond the competencies. The district will also be implementing other interventions, such as summer school, intersessions and, probably, Saturday School.

ALTs provide tangible evidence of student achievement. They will show the growth and progress for each student and enable not only teachers but also parents to fully understand what the student is learning. Last but not least, the hard data provided by the ALTs will enable the community to understand how well students are meeting or exceeding the exit competencies.

– Maggie Allen is the school district communications liaison. She will be writing a column and questions can be submitted to: Maggie Allen, Communications Liaison, Douglas County School District, Box 1888, Minden, 89423. Please include your name, address and telephone number.