Standardized Testing at Geneva Academy

During the first week of May each year we administer the  Terra Nova test, over a two day period, to students in grades 3-11.

The Terra Nova is the most respected and widely used achievement test measuring mastery of core subjects.  It provides detailed information for parents, teachers, and administrators.   Scores for parents are available usually within a week of testing, providing timely and meaningful feedback.

 

Is there a Biblical basis for standardized testing?

Although the format and procedures used for testing have changed over time, testing itself dates back to biblical times.  In the 7th Chapter of Judges, Gideon faced the Mideanites.  His army was reduced from some 32,000 men to a mere 300 men through a selection process.  First, those who were afraid were dismissed.  Then, Gideon was instructed to bring the 10,000 remaining  would-be warriors to the water’s edge. Only those who lapped water from cupped hands passed this test.  A few chapters later, in Judges 12, there is a less familiar record of a selection test. To determine the truth or falseness of an Ephraimite’s denial of his tribal identity, Jephthah’s men simply asked their suspect to say the word “Shibboleth” aloud. If he was unable to correctly pronounce the initial “sh” sound, he was judged to be lying; 42,000 unfortunate victims failed this decisive test on that occasion.  This, today would be referred to as “high stakes” testing.  These two accounts illustrate that testing itself is not a creation of the current century.   In fact, achievement testing has been used by the Chinese for over 3000 years.  Candidates for public office were required to demonstrate proficiency in essential areas such as math, music, archery, horsemanship, and writing.  Later, moral qualities of integrity and piety were also taken into account, along with knowledge of law, finance, geography, agriculture, and military matters.

Students will face high stakes tests as they go through life.  Some will be as early as high school, when they take the PSAT or the SAT.  These high stakes tests are usually single paper and pencil tests that yield scores which qualify or disqualify students or even schools from programs or dollars (ie admissions, scholarships, special education).  However, the use of achievement tests at Geneva Academy serve a far different purpose.

Geneva recognizes the whole person.  Achievement tests can measure only one subset of skills..  Success in life depends on far more than just those skills measured by the Terra Nova, Third Edition.  At Geneva,  a fully developed student should be able to do that which will reflect not only a good academic education but also a student who makes decisions based upon character and a biblical worldview, can speak, reason, problem solve, knows Christ personally, and relates will to others and to the world around them.  Standardized testing helps teachers and parents understand how well children are learning.  To obtain a more complete picture of a student, standardized test results are evaluated along with report cards, teacher observations and comments, and parental observations.  Student achievement is assessed regularly using a variety of methods, both formal and informal. Students take written tests, work on grade appropriate projects, collaborate in research, explore through experiments, etc.   Standardized Test results are only one necessary aspect of a broad picture.  It is a useful and valuable tool to ensure we help each of our students meet their academic potential and continue to progress in their academic career.

Consistent with II Corinthians 10:12b , it is also helpful for comparison and builds and maintains credibility with parents and in the community:

“When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

For Geneva, use of the Terra Nova allows us to measure and compare ourselves.  Classical Christian schools such as Geneva have high educational goals.  Schools that want excellence and want to be considered outstanding must consider what type of school they are going to compare themselves to.  Comparing ourselves using national norms (based upon all participating public and private school students) is useful for credibility at the community level.  For internal purposes, the use of national norms has far less meaning than comparing ourselves to students enrolled in a more selective high achieving group, such as the norms provided by Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), a selective group of approximately 3,000 private Christian schools which serve about 300,000 students.   These later norms help us move towards excellence and allow us to compare ourselves with other schools that also have high standards as a group.  The 50th percentile would be considered “average in either group.”  However, when comparing scores between the two groups, it would not be unusual to have a student score at the 85th percentile in reading using national norms but at the 65th percentile using ACSI norms.  Use of the Terra Nova, allows us to measure and compare us to two different groups, the national and with a higher achieving group.  In addition, sometimes colleges or other programs require such measures.

More importantly, achievement testing is provided because it matters to us that students are learning and accomplishing the intended goals we have established at Geneva Academy.  For administrators, board members, and teachers, testing provides information on how well the school is educating your son or daughter.  We want to ensure that we are educating all students to their potential.  Testing helps Geneva determine both where they are doing well and, more importantly, where to focus efforts for improvement, at the individual, classroom, and school level.  Tests are an important source of input for this decision making, but they are only one source.  If tests are not used, decisions will still be made, but they may be made more inappropriately.  Annual Standardized Achievement Testing provides continuous evaluation of our teaching methods and curricula so that we may maintain, and even improve, the level of instruction that we offer the students of Geneva Academy. It helps us increase our teaching effectiveness and intervene when  individual students struggle and are unable to meet the learning goals.  It helps us decide when perhaps a core area of instruction could be improved (ie spelling) and helps us evaluate where we may need further faculty training.  We are accountable to you, those who have commissioned us to this work and to those who are entrusting us with their children.

Lastly, standardized assessment provides the parent with objective feedback as to the education of their child.  It provides easy access to scores online, including mastery level of different objectives such as “Can my daughter multiply 2 one digit numbers?”  It provides detailed diagnostic and mastery information for each objective or group of objectives.  In summary, it helps reinforce or inform a parent as to a child’s strengths and weaknesses, gaps in learning, or where they can be challenged.  It may help direct their homework and allows us to partner more effectively with the parent to ensure their child’s academic success.

We appreciate you understanding the need for standardized testing and making sure your son or daughter is well-rested, healthy, and takes it seriously. It is excellent training for them as they will encounter many such experiences in their life and some of them may actually change the course of their career. Thank you for your support of Christian education here at Geneva Academy. If you have any questions about this information, please don’t hesitate to ask by calling Molly Jacobsen, the testing coordinator, at 541-680-9571.

What is included on the Terra Nova?

The Terra Nova consists of approximately 240-250 multiple choice items.  Critical thinking skills are a key component of the Terra Nova.  Items vary in difficulty and the type of thinking skill necessary to answer a question.  For example, 80% of the items in Math, Reading, and Language involve items that reqiure analyzing information or a more complex thinking process.  30% of the test items involve generating ideas, synthesizing elements, or evaluating outcomes.

The subtests are as follows:

  1. InView:   This tests cognitive skills in five areas:  verbal reasoning (words), verbal reasoning (context), sequences, analogies, and quantitative reasoning with a resulting verbal and nonverbal test scores.  This test provides a reliable measure of a student’s inductive and deductive reasoning processes.  Reasoning skills can be improved and insight into a child’s reasoning abilities can help improve help a child reach their potential.
  2. Bible: This tests Bible knowledge with scores at the below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced skill level.  The purpose of this test is to provide foundational information to know if students understand the Bible and how to apply it to their lives and to assist with knowing where students are and how to encourage their spiritual formation.  Three scores are provided:  knowledge, comprehension, and application.
  3. Language mechanics: capitalization and punctuation, proofreading
  4. Vocabulary: in context
  5. Math computation: just the facts.
  6. Spelling
  7. Reading: Like much of Geneva’s curriculum, content is based upon authentic literature. Questions cover items related to:  basic understanding, analyzing text, evaluating and extending meaning of a passage, and reading and writing strategies.
  8. Language:  item content assesses students’ skills in sentence structure, writing strategies, and editing skills.
  9. Mathematics assessments include items focusing on number relations, computation, numerical estimation, operation concepts, measurement, geometry, data analysis, statistics, and probability, patterns, functions, and algebra, and problem solving and reasoning. These are set in real-world contexts with contemporary topics.
  10. Word analysis: Tested at Grade 3 only and a precursor to great reading skills.