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Students ready for week of tests

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

It may be painful for thousands of school students, but it happens every year -- standardized assessment tests.

This week, students across West Virginia will take the Stanford Achievement Test Ninth Edition, more commonly known as the SAT-9. The multiple choice test will be administered Monday through Friday to grades one through 11.

The exam measures students' abilities in reading, vocabulary, mathematics, language, spelling, study skills, science, social studies and listening.

"This assessment is used by teachers and school systems to measure academic progress of students and to determine areas needing improvement," said state Superintendent Dr. David Stewart.

It is also a measure of the progress of county schools.

The state looks at those test scores, in combination with county attendance and dropout rates, when awarding school accreditation, said Jan Barth, executive director for the office of student services and assessment.

For counties that don't meet accreditation, the state offers technical assistance by assigning experts to work with the schools to develop strategies and improve weaknesses, Barth said.

"For the SAT-9s, most of our schools are at or above the 50th percentile of the norm population," she said.

West Virginia does not offer rewards or sanctions for the SAT-9 scores at this time, but may consider it in the future, Barth said. Some other states do offer monetary rewards and personnel sanctions based on students' standardized test performances, she added.

Test-taking week is a stressful time for both teachers and students. Both feel the pressure to perform well, according to Becky Mattern, Taylor County Schools coordinator of instructional support services.

"It is high-stakes testing because we're scrutinized and the results are public knowledge," Mattern said. "Every county wants to do its best to help the students learn."

The test is also used as a tool for determining curriculum strengths and weaknesses, Mattern said.

"We analyze the data every year, and you can target particular concepts or areas where students are having trouble and provide further instruction when necessary," Mattern said.

Principal Al Gorrell at Nutter Fort Primary School in Harrison County said the students have been working on practice booklets for the exam, which will hopefully help ease the pressure come test day.

"It helps them get used to looking at the format of the test, transferring and bubbling in their answers," he said.

The state switched to the SAT-9 in 1996 and will probably continue to use it until 2004, Barth said.

"It's a decent measure for the students," Barth said. "Statewide assessments should really measure the state's instructional goals and objectives and this one does."

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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