Delgado and Castillo

Katie Castillo (right) walks Kathleen Delgado (left) through the results of her Test Talk form. 

MUSCATINE — Across the district this week, Muscatine students will take the Iowa Assessment, but it will be a bit earlier than usual.

Students will be assessed on their grade level proficiency in math, science, social studies and reading. Along with the ACT Aspire test, the Iowa Assessment gives the district and teachers data points to evaluate where students are at and where future instruction will need to focus.

This year, the test's annual timing has changed. In years past, Muscatine Community School District gave the test around February. This year the assessment period is in November. 

"Winter hasn't always been the best time for assessment," said Julie Stoneking, a instruction coach at West Middle School. "You typically have snow and late start and all those things kind of get in the way of assessments. Having it in the fall prevents all of those other obstacles."

The change will impact the district's ability to compare previous year's data with this year's results. 

As Kerri Tharp, another instruction coach, explained, moving the assessment could help teachers and students moving forward. Now they will have a progress data point earlier and for both semesters. 

"We can get our data back quicker so we can make some adjustments within that same academic year," Tharp said. "Where before, if we were giving it in February, we would get the results back at the very end of spring. We would be making goals and changes for the following school year instead of that academic year."

The multiple choice questions are crafted to demonstrate a student's proficiency at certain grade specific benchmarks. For this reason, teachers will have the ability to break out skills their students need help with. 

"In every subject area, there are different concepts and skills that students have to learn," Stoneking said. "The report we get back breaks down how the students did on certain questions based on certain concepts."

For example, in the reading section, a skill assesses how a student makes inferences. Based on the student's score, a teacher can determine how much time should be spent on teaching that skill. 

"If they scored lower, then that is something the teacher could really use to say, 'We need to do more of this or that,'" Stoneking said.

The assessment's data is not only used by teachers but throughout the district to learn about the state of the curriculum.

"It's skill specific, but I think that it helps us evaluate our curriculum based on academic rigor within our curriculum and our classroom daily instruction," Tharp said.

In preparation for the test, this past week, homeroom teachers at West Middle School passed out a "Test Talk" Form. The sheet of paper had each student's Iowa Assessment score from the previous year, and beside that, what range they would need to score this year. 

"They take a look at where they scored last year, and then what the goal areas are this year and based on that information, we work together to come up with a score that they feel they can achieve,"  said Katie Castillo, an eighth grade science teacher.

Kathleen Delgado is in Castillo's homeroom. Things are looking good for her. Her Test Talk showed that she was already in the range to be marked proficient for this year. 

"I think it will be kind of tough to go above that," Delgado said. "I tried to pick a goal that was reasonable but that wasn't too low either."