Rewarding results of testing

In mid-April all our students but one brand-new student took the Iowa Assessments Form E. These are national-standard tests, each set for a grade level. We use the tests to assess how well we are teaching, not to rank students against each other. The value for individual students is to see points of progress and areas in which they can improve; their parents see all the detail in the individual reports we share with them.

The results are once again very good, very heartening to the students and to us as teachers and administrators.

* Our students average 2.2 grades above their nominal grade level!

Individual students are as much as 6.8 grades above nominal grade level

These results are particularly noteworthy. First, these are national rankings; we are even higher in effective grade levels in New Mexico, though our state, perhaps tellingly, does not use the Iowa Assessments. Second, unlike some other schools we never “teach to the test,” trying to cover closely all the topics selected in the Iowa Assessments. We give our teachers academic freedom to develop their own curricula that are much wider and richer than those in a typical school. We do not teach “test-taking” that takes valuable time away from real teaching. We only give a few hours of the practice test for each grade before students take the full battery of tests.

* Our students gain an average of 1.8 grade levels per year with us. That is, a year in the LCA essentially advances the average student academically not one year but nearly twice that.

* We are retaining students very well. Of the 37 students at grade 1 or above who took the test, 18 have been with us since kindergarten. This is notable, given the economic upheavals that lead too many families to move on from the LCA. We thank all the parents for their commitment to their children and to us.

* Math percentile scores rose over 5 points from 2021. We reorganized math teaching, and it worked.

Math grade levels rose 1.8 grades, just as did overall academic rankings.

* Social studies, science, and complete composite scores held high and steady.

* Scores for listening for grades K-3 include many very high values, well above those for previous years

The results are rich in detail. We created a separate narrative for parents, linked here.

 

Interpreting the Iowa Assessment scores for your student

April, 2022. The Iowa Assessments went smoothly and the results are both rewarding and informative. All students but one very recent student took the tests, 45 in all. Thirty-four students took the tests last year. This gives us and them a snapshot of their progress; we as teachers can reinforce progress and address apparent problems by looking at past-to-new year changes.

The tests cover wide areas – reading, math, social studies, science – and in depth in some areas, such as in reading, where the older students are tested in reading per se, written expression, conventions of writing, and vocabulary. In math, there is a separate part on computation that’s not folded into the final score (complete composite); it helps teachers assess student needs and teaching effectiveness.

Of course, the Iowa Assessments don’t test many areas of student performance or of our curriculum, or of social development. There are no tests for languages, a major focus for us, nor for music, art, physical education, and specialty courses such as world culture, sign language, or ethics. We have more informal evaluations for these other courses, and we assure that we look at these evaluations seriously. The Iowa Assessments give us information that is both narrower and broader (basic capabilities). We’ll continue to use them appropriately.

We use the scores to help individual students progress and to find possible improvements in our teaching. We do not rank students against each other at any point.

We may start with a summary of what the scores are and what they tell us is. The section following this delves into trends across test areas, across years, and by subjects that we teach.

For each part of the tests your student gets a set of scores; let’s go through them. The visual presentation in the NPR bar graph is notable. The length of each bar is a positive measure of performance. It’s a plot of the national percentile rank – how high your student’s score is relative to all students in the nation taking the test. A percentile rank of 77 in one test area means that your student scored above 77% of all students in that test area. It’s presented on a background of three vertical lines that show where national results lie for the first, second, and third quartiles lie – that is, ¼ of all students scored in the range from the 1st to the 25th percentile , ½ of all students scored in the range for the 1st to the 50th percentile, ¾ of all students scored in the range from the 1st to the 75th percentile.

The section on Test Scores gives more detailed information. One score that’s a bit arcane: The SS or scaled score is a measure of performance relative to the highest possible (999) that would be shown by persons at the very highest level of education at advanced levels (postgraduate). So, the SS will be “low” for young students but it may be very high relative to other students of that age group. The GE or grade equivalent is clear: at what level in all schools nationally taking the test is your student performing. Your 4th-grader may have a GE of 6.7 in math, equivalent to the average student in grade 6.7 nationally – that is, 7/10 of the way through grade 6. The NS or national stanine is another way of ranking students by percentile. It is less intuitive than the raw percentile score and perhaps adds little information. The NPR or national percentile rank is just the numerical value that holds the identical information to the bar graph.

It is notable that the two subject tests for older students, social studies and science, are tied to specific content – what the average student in the nation is exposed to. We do not “teach to the test,” and content in our courses varies year by year, so our students “miss” some test content in any year… but they perform admirably on the Iowa Assessments and they get a broader and deeper education in both of these subjects over the years.

You and we can look at the scores two ways:

— “horizontally” (at least in Vince’s spreadsheet), for an individual student, across the test areas.

First, Where are your student’s strengths and weaknesses; weaknesses are mostly relative to other areas for the student? A student may be high in the math score and not as high in social studies, but still very good. Most students, here and anywhere else, show much variability in talent and performance across different areas. It’s normal. Notable variations point us as teachers to areas where we might help students gain ground.

Second, How did your student progress from the 2021 test to the 2022 test?  Vince extracted the results from the 2021 tests and calculated the numerical change. (Dear parents: you can ask us for these between-year comparisons for your child; you might send an email.)There are two categories of change that should be viewed differently. We’ll go through the different types of scores in the next paragraph, but it’s good to consider two kinds of changes in scores now:

Changes in percentile scores, such in reading: Even an unchanged score indicated student progress, since there is a higher grade equivalent associated with a gain in chronological age. Most changes in percentile scores are modest. We pay attention to major changes, up or down, particularly if a group of students shows such changes in the same direction (this did not happen). Some percentiles are almost impossible to change, such as high 90s; there’s little or no room to improve.

Changes in grade equivalent. With basic maturation of one year and steady performance in an typical school, one expects a gain of one GE per year. In the LCA, the average gain in grade equivalent exceeds this. Gains below one year are points for discussion with the family, which we are pleased to undertake.

— “vertically.” in one test area, for all students in one grade or for all students in the school. These measures tell us much about our teaching effectiveness across all students. In Reading Total and the associated Grade Equivalent we have computed the average of both measures. We have done this for individual grades (K, 1, 2…) and for the school as a whole. We have these values for last year, also, so that we have a measure of our teaching effectiveness by grade and for the school as a whole.

 

 

James and the Giant Peach

May 21, 2022.  In the culmination of more than a year of preparation, students in grades 3 through 8 presented the full-hour play, James and the Giant Peach, based on the story by Roald Dahl. Siblings, parents, grandparents, and teachers packed the school courtyard in the warm late afternoon sunlight. The actors hit their marks and delivered their lines, costumed engagingly and supported by elaborate set.  In all the many hours of work-up to this evening they were guided by teacher Elizabeth Brasher and supported by many LCA families who sewed costumes, provided materials, and constructed and painted sets. After the performance the actors and the audience mingled with conversation and refreshments. The program here gives the credits, condensing so much work.  The two carousels of images capture some of the memorable scenes. Vince Gutschick recorded the play and post-processed the recording to put it on YouTube.  We’ll all recall this event warmly.

A year in pictures and stories

All year students and teachers have been gathering pictures and stories about our lives in the Academy. Students then worked with former teacher Kelly Lin (now in California) to create this year’s yearbook.  It’s full of hundreds of images arranged artistically and joined by text they wrote as they used precious free time. Here are 15 selected pages to show the group’s artistry and thoughtful, joyful presentation.

End-of-term performance 2022

Friday, May 27, 2022. We’re back into live performances! With due caution against COVID-19 out students were able to sing, recite, and act outdoors in our second courtyard. All grades were up there, K through 8, before a packed audience of parents, grandparents, friends, and teachers. There were songs for every group, in English and Mandarin Chinese (kudos to teacher Yulin Zhang!), and even in American Sign Language.  Students presented Dr. Seuss’s famous Green Eggs and Ham in Sign Language with narration. The beautiful sounds of choir chimes in three selections finished the performance, showing the results of four months practice. In the last third of the event teacher and Deputy Head of School Elizabeth Brasher gave out awards from the field day contests of the previous weeks, ending with graduating eighth-grader Samantha Brasher receiving her so well-deserved diploma.

The video is up on YouTube, edited with titles for segments.

Field day – fun and athletic tests

Tuesday, May 28, 2022. Students enjoy vigorous activity outside and some friendly competition. Teacher and Deputy Head of School Elizabeth Brasher has been getting our students in grades 3-8 into diverse sports – basketball, flag football, kickball, soccer, and track and field. On this sunny Tuesday the students got to test themselves in the great outdoors, as they do daily in our school.

James and the Giant Peach

May 21, 2022.  In the culmination of more than a year of preparation, students in grades 3 through 8 presented the full-hour play, James and the Giant Peach, based on the story by Roald Dahl. Siblings, parents, grandparents, and teachers packed the school courtyard in the warm late afternoon sunlight. The actors hit their marks and delivered their lines, costumed engagingly and supported by elaborate set.  In all the many hours of work-up to this evening they were guided by teacher Elizabeth Brasher and supported by many LCA families who sewed costumes, provided materials, and constructed and painted sets. After the performance the actors and the audience mingled with conversation and refreshments. The program here gives the credits, condensing so much work.  The two carousels of images capture some of the memorable scenes. Vince Gutschick recorded the play and post-processed the recording to put it on YouTube.  We’ll all recall this event warmly.

Graduates visit us!

May 18, 2022.  We had a very welcome surprise visit by three of our LCA alumni/-ae!  Louis Pate, Alegra Reinhold, and David Flores all showed up in their graduation gowns and mortarboards from Las Cruces High School, including their drapings showing their academic honors. Head of School Lou Ellen Kay and Board Chair Vince Gutschick met them as they arrived. It was a joyful reunion all around. Louis, Alegra, and David toured the school, saw their old classrooms, met their former teachers and new teachers, and listened to young students sing in Chinese as they once did. They were pleased to see on the walls the cultural items and educational postings new and old, and even the scientific art they had created back when. Louis and Alegra were happy to see the light-up periodic table of the chemical elements that they helped create – they had programmed the Raspberry Pi computer and the Python program, constructed parts, wired the logic board interminably, and recorded narrations about the elements. We look forward to a big reunion party if we can gather their colleagues soon, before they all disperse to universities around the nation.