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Testing in Arkansas: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2008-2009 Arkansas used the Benchmark Exam to measure achievement in math in grades 3 through 8, literacy in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and science in grades 5 and 7. The Benchmark Exam is a standards-based, or criterion-referenced, exam which measures specific skills defined by the state of Arkansas. Beginning in 2007-2008, the Benchmark Exam was combined with the Stanford Achievement Test, Tenth Edition (SAT-10) to form the Augmented Benchmark Examination. The SAT-10 is a norm-referenced test, which means it measures how well students in Arkansas scored in comparison to their peers across the country. In addition to literacy and math, the Augmented Benchmark Examination also tests science in grades 5 and 7. The SAT-10 was administered separately in grades K-2 and 9 in reading and math.

End of Course Exams were given to students taking algebra I, geometry and biology upon completion of each course. The tests are standards-based, which means they measure specific skills defined by the state of Arkansas. Arkansas is introducing a standards-based algebra II exam developed in cooperation with several other states.

How are the tests scored?

Benchmark Exam and End of Course Exam results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are assigned one of four levels of proficiency: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level on the tests.

The SAT-10 measures performance through a percentile based on the scores of all students of the same grade level in the nation. Students receive a percentile rank, which indicates how well they performed in comparison to peers in other states. If the number is 45, for example, students scored as well or better than 45% of students who took the test across the country. The national average for all schools is 50. The state's goal is for all students to score at or above the national average.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Only the criterion-referenced portion of the Benchmark Exam and the spring End of Course Exam results in geometry, algebra, and biology are included on GreatSchools profiles. For each tested subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level is displayed.

Why do the tests matter?

While test results do not affect promotion from one grade level to the next, students who do not perform at the proficient level on the Benchmark Exam will be required to follow an academic improvement plan, which is a remedial plan that is constructed with the individual student in mind. In addition, the results of the Benchmark and End of Course exams will appear on the high school transcript.

Test results play a crucial role in school accountability in Arkansas. Based on test results, the state identifies whether schools are doing well or are in academic distress. The state provides schools in academic distress with funds and assistance to help them create and implement improvement plans.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall scores for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students and what you as a parent can do to help.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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Comments from readers

"I feel there is too much emphasis placed on these benchmark exams. From what I have experienced I feel some teachers are more interested in setting their curriculum for bench mark questions and memorization then actual one on one needs of each individual student and I fear some child might get left behind...hopefully not mine. Im not sure what is being learned verses what is being memorized for the fast pace of keeping up with test schedules. How do we know what is actually going into LONG TERM memory verses SHORT TERM memorization. I think more application to what is learned is necessary to see what has been planted. However, I have no statistics to judge by. This is my concern."
"I think that each student needs to be evaluated in private and that the United States' educational system falls short of supplying any programs that cover learning impaired..... All food provided to students should be healthy. NO soda, chips, candy, cookies, cake or high sugar content items should be provided at school. There is evidence that healthy diet provides a better learning environment. Many students suffer from deficiencies due to lack of nutritional sustenance. Many of our children are learning impaired due to the poor diet given in the home setting. Parents need to be given information on raising healthy minds. If a child comes to school late, that child should be allowed to consume an adequate breakfast before beginning class time. If that means missing the first class, then an alternative schedule should be researched. An after school program for missed classes might be something to look into. Possibly have all physical education classes within the first 2 hours of school. Just some ideas.. Thank you for listening"
"Great article, very informative but not overwhelming."