Students, faculty react to new End-of-Course Assessment exams

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — For the first time, students at Columbia's public high schools are taking the new End of Course Assessment to evaluate academic progress under state and federal education standards. The EOCA replaces the Missouri Assessment Program, better known as MAP.

“This year, English II, biology and algebra I are operational exams, meaning they count," said Ann Landes, Hickman High School's director of guidance. "We are giving other exams as field tests, which means they do not count. However, we encourage the students to do their best in order for field testing to be reliable."

Hickman Principal Michael Jeffers said in a letter to students that those in the other core classes — algebra II, geometry, integrated math II and III, English I, government and American history  — will field test the assessment so the EOCA for those courses will be ready and can begin to be counted in the 2009-10 school year.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will use the results of the EOCA to measure whether students are making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Matt Webel, department chairman for the language arts department at Rock Bridge High School, said some of the EOC assessments have been conducted early rather than waiting until the end of the school year.

"I will say that we were forced to take the English II EOC test early in the school year in order to get the written portion graded before the end of the year," Webel said. "Students took this test on April 15th and 16th, which is not exactly the 'end of the year.' I wonder if this will hurt our results. Students will take their biology and math EOCs much later in the school year."

Students said they had mixed feelings about the new testing. Alexis Barnes and Alisha Jameson, both Hickman juniors, said they didn’t feel prepared for their EOCA.

"The teacher said to make sure we remember what we don’t know or understand (on the EOCA) so they can take it off next year,” Barnes said. “Some of the stuff on the EOC, teachers said wasn’t even in their curriculum.”

Jameson said some material on her algebra II EOCA had not been covered yet. “I think they should wait until closer to the end of the year to do it,” Jameson said.

Rock Bridge sophomore Leslie Goehl had similar feelings about her world studies assessment. “With this (EOCA), they were using words we had never even heard before,” Goehl said.

Webel explained that schools modified their entire schedule to accommodate MAP testing, but with the EOCA, the testing is handled during a normal school day during regularly scheduled English, biology and math classes.

Landes said the MAP was two 80-minute sections covering all subjects, while the EOCA is conducted over two 55-minute class periods covering one course.

D’sjaun Sipho, a Hickman junior, took the geometry EOCA on Wednesday.

“The EOC exam was 36 questions multiple choice, so it was a lot quicker,” Sipho said. “The MAP test was harder. I think you had to write out your work.”

Leah Easley, a Rock Bridge sophomore, also said the EOCA was much faster to take than the MAP. “It was a lot shorter because it focused on one subject,” she said, referring to her world studies EOCA.

Jeffers said in his letter to students that a criticism of the MAP test was that it didn’t affect students’ grades. Now, he said, the EOC assessment will count as 5 percent of the student's total semester grade and part of the 15 percent allotted for the final exam.

"The field tests have no bearing on a student's grade. The operational tests do, but the field tests are strictly practice tests," Webel said. As a teacher, he was not allowed to look at the MAP or EOC tests, but he agreed with Jeffers' criticism of the MAP test.

"The most significant difference between MAP and EOC is that MAP scores did not impact individual student grades in courses," Webel said. "The intent, I believe, was intended to increase student accountability. This decision was not made at the building level, but at the district level, and is mandated for all EOC exams."

“The only bad thing about it (the EOCA) is if you don’t do well, your grade can get hurt by it,” Sipho said. “With the MAP test, you could just blow it off.”

Becky Kaempfer, a Rock Bridge sophomore, preferred the MAP assessment over the new one. “I liked MAP better because I was more prepared for it and less pressured because it wasn’t part of our grade,” Kaempfer said.

There are two sessions of the EOCA: the multiple choice is taken during one 55-minute class period, and the performance exam is taken during the next class period. The performance exam entails writing, labs, etc., Landes said.

Kaempfer said she liked the written portion on her world studies EOCA because it “gave them a chance to give their own individuality.”

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