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GPS makes progress toward online testing
September 11, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Terri Martin - GPS Curriculum Director

Starting this fall, Gering schools will move away from pencil and paper testing for evaluating student progress to a system that’s completely online.

Terri Martin, curriculum director for Gering Public Schools, said the district has stopped administering the Terra Nova tests, which had to be filled out by hand. Instead, the new method is called an NWEA Maps Test.

Martin said those changes and a new curriculum is in response to district test scores that aren’t keeping pace with state averages. While the shortages are nominal in the areas of science and math, they’re more pronounced in reading/language arts. And the district has taken steps to bump up those scores in grades K-12, focusing on reading comprehension.

“We’re not with the state average yet, but we’re catching up,” Martin said. “We restructured our curriculum with the purpose of closing that gap. We want to be functioning at or above the state average and I hope no one is satisfied until we are.”

The Maps Test was rolled out last week in the Freshman Academy. By the end of September, the district will be testing grades 3 through 10 in all the schools.

The Maps Test will be given two or three times a year, depending on the grade level. It’s completely computerized and students get results immediately. Subject areas include reading/ language arts, math, and science in all but grades 5, 8 and 11. That’s because state testing covers science in those grades.

“We’re excited about this because kids get their results immediately,” Martin said. “Teachers can then help their students where it’s needed.”

She added there’s always some nervousness over rolling out a new testing method. However, the district expects to see growth from the fall to the spring. The Maps Test will help them to measure that growth more accurately.

The testing can be done in Chromebooks, allowing students to take the tests at their desks rather than in a lab setting. That allows the labs to be used for other purposes.

In addition to the Maps Test, students will soon be using Chromebooks to take state tests through NeSA, Nebraska State Accountability. At the end of October, Gering will be part of a pilot program to see how technology benefits state testing. And by next April, the district plans to administer those tests online.

“The state is trying hard to get there as fast as they can,” Martin said. “This school year is going to be it. We’re hoping the pilot program gives the state the information it needs to tweak the program and get it ready for use.”

NeSA will release its testing results from last spring on Oct. 22. Math was tested in grades 3, 8 and 11. Science was tested in grades 5, 8 and 11. Writing was tested in grades 4, 8 and 11, but only fourth grade results were reported, where accurate numbers could be verified.
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