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New tests could improve grad rate

Thanks to a new testing system, teachers and students at Andalusia City Schools can now narrow down exactly where there are “learning gaps” in the system’s teaching curriculum.

This year, students in third grade through the 12th grade will be tested through the STI (Software Technology) Achievement Professional Development system. Students are currently taking “pre tests” in different subjects, and that data will allow teachers to determine which topics their students already know, and in which topics their students need more instruction.

Money from the Title I American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus funds) is helping to fund the system’s contract with STI Achievement, and also pays for two system-wide curriculum coaches. Stimulus funds can normally only be used at Title I schools, which have a higher level of students from low-income backgrounds and include Andalusia Elementary School and Andalusia Middle School but not Andalusia High School. However, because the curriculum coaches are system employees, they can benefit all three city schools.

Those coaches, Judy Armstrong and Susan Collier, gave a presentation of the STI testing and its benefits at the Monday meeting of the Andalusia Board of Education.

“This week, the students will be completing their pre-tests in each of the major disciplines that are on the Alabama High School Graduation Exam,” Armstrong said. “Once their test results are turned in, we can scan it in and review the data almost immediately. We’ll be able to look and see, ‘Okay, the kids all did really well on this concept, but they were poor on this concept.’ And then our teachers can take that information and gear their instruction plan toward teaching the students the things they still need to learn.”

The curriculum coaches are also working to make sure that the learning curriculum is consistent across all grade levels and schools.

“We’re hoping to get our curriculum aligned in all subjects,” Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said. “We want to build a culture among our students to make them realize that just because you learned something in one grade, you don’t need to forget it over the summer as you move onto the next grade. There are things we teach in fifth grade that are actually concepts that will appear on the graduation exam.

“We’re going to start holding our teacher more accountable, and make sure that when they test their students, they ‘dip down’ into concepts those kids may have had in a previous class or grade.”

One additional benefit of the STI Achievement tests and software is that data can be classified in a variety of ways. Administrators can even look at student achievement across a particular grade, based on teacher, gender, income level and a variety of other factors.

“Let’s say that you look across a grade and you see that the classes for five out of six teachers learned a particular concept,” McAnulty said. “Well, that sixth teacher can then talk to her colleagues and find out the way they were able to teach the concept to their students, and then she can utilize those suggestions in her own lesson plans.”

Andalusia High School failed to make its federal “Adequate Yearly Progress” goal this year, because its graduation rate did not meet the acceptable standard. School officials hope that programs like STI Achievement and curriculum alignment will help AHS meet its graduation rate goals in the near future.