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posted: Tue, Sep 29th, 2015

A testing renaissance is under way

A better benchmark assessment means less testing for kids

This year, students in all Mount Olive schools will spend less time taking benchmark tests and more time learning. That’s good news for students, parents, and staff members. 

The total testing time for elementary students (Gr. 1-5) for internal and required assessments will be reduced from 39 hours in 2014-2015 to under six hours. (PARCC has also reduced the testing time for its exams.)

Better testing is the real story

Assessing what students know and don’t know is still just as important as ever. The real story is not the reduction in testing time but the improvement in testing. The district has replaced a number of separate reading and math assessments at the elementary and middle school levels with a more effective one called Renaissance STAR. STAR will be used to measure student skill levels in reading and math, and will be administered districtwide to K-8 students just three times per year.

STAR really is a renaissance. Taken by students on computers or tablets, results are available 24 hours after completion. More importantly, the reports generated by STAR will identify student abilities and weaknesses, then make specific recommendations to teachers on how to individualize instruction.

For example, a reading report could indicate that a student should be focusing on learning to “distinguish more important details from less important details” in a piece of non-fiction or learning to “understand the features of sentences and paragraphs” such as capitalization and punctuation. 

“STAR is a powerful tool that will provide crucial insight into each student’s abilities and yearly progress,” said Kevin Moore, CMS principal. “It provides data the very next day so that teachers can immediately take action and address the individual skill deficits of each student.”

STAR data can also be used to monitor specific class, grade, and school results, and compare students to their peers in other classes, schools, the state, and the nation.

In addition, teachers can use STAR periodically throughout the year at their discretion to measure student progress. 

“We are always looking for new techniques and approaches to help students learn,” said Dr. Larrie Reynolds, superintendent of schools. “And that’s important because kids are always changing. STAR is an incredibly sophisticated assessment that provides more accurate information than other assessments that we have used, and does so more efficiently with fewer questions. We think it will pay big dividends in helping to enhance instruction and student learning.”

Most elementary students recently completed the STAR reading and math assessments. 

Parents will soon receive letters indicating how their children performed and what they can do to help students work toward subject mastery.

written by: mcravotta@mtoliveboe.org

Superheroes show kids how to stand up to bullying

They didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound but they did bend steel and rip phone books in half. Superhero Omegaman (Marc Wilkes) recently came to CMS with his superhero pals Guardian (Greg Lewis) and Iceman (Andy Gavin). Together they taught students the rules of good behavior and a variety of techniques that can be used to stand up to bullies.

Weaving dramatic feats of strength and personal stories into their presentations, the superheroes kept the students entertained while underscoring their key messages including “Be a dream-maker, not a dream-breaker” and “Be a H.E.R.O (Helping Everyone Respect Others).” In addition to anti-bullying and character building, other topics were discussed including peer pressure, making healthy lifestyle choices, self-esteem, academic excellence, and violence prevention.

“These are essential skills and concepts that apply to all of life, not just in school,” said Roberta Easton, CMS guidance counselor. “They encourage children to believe in themselves and support others on their road to success."

The presentations, one for grades K-2 and one for grades 3-5, served as a prelude to the Week of Respect and School Violence Awareness Week which are observed every year in October by New Jersey schools. This year the Week of Respect is October 5-9 and School Violence Awareness Week is October 19-23.

The visit by Omegaman and friends was sponsored by the Chester M. Stephens School Community Association.

You can find more information about Omegaman at www.omegamankids.com.

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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