This fall, teachers in Loudoun County Public Schools will have a new tool at their disposal. For the first time, county schools will use benchmark testing to ascertain students' understanding of the Standards of Learning.
Students in grades three, five and eight, as well as high-school students, will take 30-minute tests in math and English approximately every eight weeks. The tests will be graded electronically, and, within minutes, teachers can use them to determine exactly which standard of learning a student did not grasp.
"It's just a really, really nice way to find out where the kids are," said Doug Anderson, Broad Run High School assistant principal. "It's the best diagnostic tool I've seen."
"It's a tool really for teachers and students," said Peter Hughes, director of curriculum and instruction for the school system. "It's also a way to be sure that you're continuing to make a little bit of progress each year."
For elementary- and middle-school students, the new tests will not affect grade point averages. For high-school students, according to Hughes, the tests will count as the equivalent of a small quiz. Since this is the first year for benchmark testing in Loudoun, however, Hughes is quick to note that the system will be under evaluation.
"I expect we're going to learn a lot this year," he said.
WHILE THE PLAN is to expand beyond math and English benchmark tests in coming years, the new tests will hopefully not add too many hours of multiple choicing for students.
"Everybody's doing a lot of testing," Hughes said. "What we're trying to do is use this test instead of others."
Each school will determine the best way to use the test results, Hughes said. "How the students, teachers, schools use that information is up to that school," he said.
Anderson points out that the new tests, which are standardized across the county, will help point out strengths and weaknesses both specific and widespread.
"That way we can not only do classrooms, we can also do buildingwide and also countywide," he said.
In the end, benchmark testing should provide another boost to Loudoun's public schools. As Arcola Elementary School principal Dawn Haddock put it, "Basically, it comes down to leaving no child behind."