PRESSURE MOUNTING TO MAKE THE GRADE

January 24, 2001 12:00 am

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Administrators and teachers in Del Norte County are facing increased pressures to help students do well on achievement tests - or they may face sanctions.

Now some state leaders say the reliance on statewide tests to judge the effectiveness of schools has gone too far.

Im very critical of the test. It is totally politically motivated...and just for the purpose of comparing students to each other, said Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin said.

The problem, Strom-Martin said, is that the test is not in line with actual state standards.

Two years ago, California adopted the Academic Performance Index system to rate, test and compare all its 6,000 schools.

The California State Assembly will hold a hearing about the test next Wednesday. Strom-Martin said the hearing will evaluate whether the system is working and how it can be more in line with actual state education standards.

Theyre performing well, but at what price? Weve gone too far to one side. Any good classroom teacher uses as many approaches as possible to learning - instead of just one technique, which we do to teach the test, she said.

Last week the Del Norte County schools received their API results. Most of the schools met their goals, but only after a lot of focused work, according to Smith River Principal Gary Hudson.

Hudson said he and his teachers studied the results of last years test so they could gear lessons to help students do better on the most recent one.

So, we said, our students scored low on reading comprehension synonyms. So our teachers went out and did everything they could to teach synonyms, Hudson said.

The test is basically the same each year and though teachers arent allowed to study it, Hudson said theres no law against remembering whats on it.

Because the state requires schools to reach a certain mark of achievement on the test, schools do what they can to reach that goal. But is it smart to focus on a test when it doesnt show whether students meet the educational standards of the state?

Whether we should do it or not - that question is irrelevant because we have to do it, Hudson said. We follow the rules.

In Del Norte County schools, Hudson said more focus has been put on categories like math and language that show up on the test, but he said he doesnt feel other subjects are neglected too much as a result.

Science and research, Social Studies and Art - that stuff happens, yes we still do all that stuff. Is it done with the same sense of urgency? Of course not, Hudson said.

Superintendent Walt Hanline takes pride in the API scores given local schools. He does acknowledge, however, that the test is not where it should be.

I believe the state is on the right track...but, I believe there are some issues that need to be addressed, such as the difference between state standards (and the test), Hanline said.

For the time being, local administrators have their hands tied. Assistant Superintendent Doug Stark said if a certain school fails to meet achievement goals on the test, the state may step in, fire the principal and possibly close the school.