A relatively new in-house assessment program in Forest Park’s K-8 public schools is still being tweaked by administrators, but during a discussion of students’ latest scores board members were told that learning is clearly taking place within the classroom.

The program, called Aimsweb, was first introduced to educators in District 91 during the 2007-08 school year, but students were first tested using its metrics in the 2008-09 year. Already, district officials have changed how they’ll measure students’ abilities. According to Ed Brophy, assistant superintendent, last year’s test used aggregate norms to establish benchmarks. This year, new standards were created using benchmark data from the Illinois Standards Achievement Exam. Because the annual ISAT figures heavily into how schools are judged by state and federal agencies, Brophy said the Aimsweb data can better help teachers predict how their students will perform on the high-stakes exam.

Brophy acknowledged, however, that the district is still reviewing how best to set standards for the Aimsweb test. The goal is to give teachers real-time data that can influence lesson plans and teaching strategies in the classroom.

During a Feb. 11 board meeting, Brophy characterized the annual ISAT scores as an indication of “what happened” in a given classroom. Aimsweb, he said, tells teachers “what is happening.”

“District 91 is at the beginning of building an assessment structure,” Brophy said.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo was out of town for the school board’s meeting, and did not attend.

The in-house assessment is administered at least three times a year and gauges a student’s fluency in reading. In the reading test, students are not tested on their understanding of the material, but simply whether they can read it. Those who struggle are tested more often to help teachers assess whether their strategies are making a difference.

Based on testing data taken in the fall, and again in January, students in grades 2-7 overall made gains in their reading skills, according to the scores reviewed by the board. Students in eighth grade, however, are held to tighter standards and thus showed less progress, according to Brophy. Charts representing the test results attempt to show how many students moved between three categories of proficiency, but do not detail whether scores rose within those proficiency ranges. Teachers and principals have access to each students’ scores and can determine whether smaller gains – or losses – are occurring.

“There are students who made gains,” Brophy said, explaining the eighth-graders’ chart to board members. “It’s just the way the targets are designed.”

A middle school teacher who attended the meeting said the Aimsweb information, overall, is helpful. However, students don’t always perform at their best so it is important that teachers and administrators insert the results into a broader discussion of how students are learning.