Benchmark Testing

by Peggy Mathiason, BCS Testing Coordinator

Like most schools around the nation (both public and private) Billings Christian School is wrapping up our second round of Benchmark Testing for our Preschool – 8th grades. Because many families may be unfamiliar with what these tests are, I’d like to take this opportunity to give you some explanation.

In the past, the only formal testing (other than weekly spelling or end of chapter tests, etc.) done in schools were the paper-pencil, end-of-the-year, standardized tests every student took. I took them as a child, and I’ll bet you did, too! Once those tests were completed, they were shipped off to a scoring facility, the results would be sent back to the school and then, more often than not, filed in an administrator’s locked filing cabinet to be looked at… NEVER! Sometimes schools would send the results home in final report cards, but the scores couldn’t really be used for anything since adjustments or improvements in the student’s instruction couldn’t be made because the school year was already over! Please don’t think that I am saying these kinds of tests are bad; on the contrary, BCS participates in the Iowa Assessments (standardized testing) each spring, and they are very useful and comprehensive measures. In contrast to the past, our BCS staff receives training in analyzing and utilizing those assessment reports in order to improve our curriculum and instruction for both overall and individual student achievement. Additionally, because we receive the data before the end of the school year, we are able to make necessary adjustments to both our curriculum and instruction for the next school year.

Benchmark Testing (also known as Universal Screening) serves a different purpose. These tests are administered to all Pre-K – 8th grade students three times/year for math and reading. These screenings are quick, efficient measures of critical skills known to be strong indicators that predict a student’s performance in a specific subject. The data provides our school with an indicator of not only how each individual student is doing, but also overall curricular and instructional effectiveness. Now, I would be lying if I told you that these tests are 100% accurate 100% of the time; but rather, the scores represent a quick snapshot of a student’s skills and abilities at a given moment in time. And although a student’s results can be impacted by a variety of things (not feeling well, hungry, family dog is lost, etc.) the results are surprisingly accurate most of the time! Our staff spends a great deal of time analyzing this data and are able to identify students who may be struggling (or exceeding) much earlier in the school year and make the needed improvements to the instruction based on their specific area(s) of need. This gives us the opportunity to “catch” a student who may be struggling during the school year in time to make immediate adjustments to their instruction rather than having to wait until the next school year.

I hope this helps you understand a little more about our schools’ Benchmark Testing. We don’t typically send these testing results home, but If you are ever interested in seeing your child’s results, I’m quite sure his/her teacher would be happy to provide you with a copy of their latest scores, and I am always available to answer any further questions you might have. Additionally, our students will begin taking the Iowa Assessments the day after our Easter break – April 19, and the final round of Benchmark Testing will immediately follow their completion. As usual, please make every effort to make sure your student(s) are present, well rested, and ready for showing their best effort for those tests. We will be providing more information regarding those tests in a few weeks. Again, thanks for all the support you give your students and our school in general during our assessment sessions! Wishing you a warm and wonderful winter!