YUHSD ‘pleased' with Cambridge test results
School officials are pleased with test results from exams taken at YUHSD last year.
Last year's freshman students in the Yuma Union High School District took end-of-course exams as part of the Ready Now Yuma program and officials report that those who took the tests performed well.
While all students in the Ready Now Yuma program are participating in the Cambridge curriculum, students had the choice to take the end-of-the-year Cambridge International Examinations with the exception of a random sampling of students who agreed to be part of a study from the University of Michigan and the National Center for the Future of the Economy.
Associate Superintendent James Sheldahl said about 800 students took the exams at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, which was the district's pilot year of the Ready Now Yuma program.
Sheldahl shared that students can't “pass” or “fail” the exams. Each student in the program received results from the exam to see where they are in respect to college and career readiness. School administrators and teachers sat down with individual students or small groups of students and shared the results.
“We had no intentions at any point of making the results of these exams be extrapolated as a schoolwide or a districtwide measure of success, it's all about the individual student,” he said.
He noted that in addition to using the data to help students become college ready, the results will be used as baseline data to determine the success of the program.
With about 60 percent of Arizona high school graduates statewide needing remediation upon entry into college, Sheldahl said, “We really use this as an individual point of determination for kids to determine where they are now, relative to being college ready to see where their gap is and how to go about putting a plan together to fill in that gap.”
Students had the opportunity to take the exams in English, biology, history and mathematics. Sheldahl added that although math is a two-year course that most students don't take until the end of their sophomore year, about 80 freshman were ready to take it at the end of their first year.
Although there is a cost associated with the exams, he explained that the district has agreed to cover the cost.
“We are committed that any student who wants to challenge themselves with the exam, we are committed to offering that at no cost to the student,” he said.
The cost, Sheldahl said, has to do with the fact that the exams require a large amount of hands-on scoring. The exams requie written responses from students instead of past exams that relied mostly on multiple choice questions.
“You're going to pay to have that exam scored and read. It's a little different than running it through the Scantron... The kids got a chance to show what they know and can do as opposed to if they understand the specific question that is being asked of them,” he said.
Teachers receive a report of the students' exam, which breaks down the objectives within the Cambridge course and tells the instructor how students performed, what answer they were looking for on particular questions and common mistakes made.
“Our teachers can use that year after year to plan their instruction and their focus and make sure that they're closing those gaps; so it's great feedback,” he said.
One English instructor, said Sheldahl, took an item from last year's exam and had the students respond to short prompts about a passage on their notebooks sending their answers to a SmartBoard in the front of the class. The responses popped up on the screen and were anonymous so the teacher could talk about each response without putting particular students on the spot for getting answer wrong, Sheldahl said.
He said he hopes the district has a larger pool of students interested in taking the exams next year so that it can work to close the gap between where students are and being college and career ready.
“Overall the kids took the exam seriously and they actually performed pretty well,” he said. “What does it mean? We don't know what it means yet, because we need to see what it looks like next year and the year after that to see what kind of progress we're making.”
Sheldahl explained that the district has multiple systems in place to track student data to determine in years to come whether or not the program is successful.
Students can also track their progress online. He said that the district is working to have a parent log-in up by next semester.
Ready Now Yuma is an initiative of YUHSD, in partnership with the Helios Education Foundation, to ensure every student graduates ready to succeed in college and career.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.