By Matthew Tungate
English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History teachers who have already given state-required end-of-course (EOC) assessments had a common message for their counterparts who have yet to give the test: Use the sample questions provided by the ACT QualityCore Instructional Program throughout the course to measure how your students are doing.
Michelle Nevitt, who has spent 13 of her 16 years teaching mathematics at Hancock County High School, gave her Advanced Algebra II class the EOC tests before the winter break. She said QualityCore puts many sample questions on its website.
“The test truly reflected what was practiced in that bank,” Nevitt said. “The QualityCore questions should be practiced daily, but it should not be what we ‘do.’ The curriculum from the national standards should be taught carefully and strategically so that when we practice QualityCore questions, students are able to be successful.”
Jamiee Sampson, a fifth-year English II and III teacher at Walton-Verona High School (Walton-Verona Independent), went a step further.
“Use the ACT QualityCore to your advantage, implement test-taking strategies to assist with time constraints,” she said. “ACT QualityCore texts and questions appeared to be a bit more difficult when comparing it to the EOC itself, but it entails great rigor.”
This is the first year Kentucky public school students are taking EOC tests as part of the new Unbridled Learning: College/Career Readiness for All assessment and accountability system. Besides counting for accountability for a school and district, the EOC tests also count as part of a student’s overall course grade. The Kentucky Board of Education recommended the tests account for 20 percent of students’ course grades, but districts were allowed to decide the percentage.
Kentucky students will take the EOC tests for English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History once they complete the course. Most students will take English II, Algebra II and Biology as sophomores, and U.S. History as juniors.
ACT QualityCore, which is syllabus-driven and includes curriculum and instruction support materials to supplement existing courses, is aligned with college and career skills.
Woody McMillen, the Walton-Verona High U.S. History teacher who is in his 10th year at the school and 15th teaching, said the EOC test caused him to teach differently than he has in the past
For one, Kentucky U.S. History classes traditionally only included information starting with Reconstruction (1865-77). But the EOC test contains about 10 percent of material before Reconstruction. McMillen said his classes looked over some pre-Reconstruction materials, which had been taught in previous classes.
He said another big adjustment was the QualityCore materials went into greater detail than the former Kentucky Core Content Test (KCCT), which was part of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS). The KCCT included various aspects of social studies, such as world civilizations, economics, civics and geography. The EOC test has only U.S. history, he said.
“It was not as broad as the old CATS test used to be, but of course, it was much longer,” McMillen said. “I would say compared to the CATS test, I found it to be much more difficult.”
Keri Johnson, the science department chair at Bath County High School, gave the biology test to her Integrated Science II class and said she thinks the QualityCore objectives are much more detailed than Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards.
“Not only are more concepts taught, but the level at which they are supposed to be taught is very advanced,” the seven-year teaching veteran said.
She said to incorporate more detail into units that she previously did not.
“I have also been using the formative item pool from the QualityCore website when I create assessments,” she said. “I have been trying to give more frequent assessments as well.”
Nevitt said this year’s material reminds her of what she learned in her Algebra II class in the late 1980s.
“The amount of curriculum that we had to cover that was going to be covered in the EOC was more than what we had been used to teaching,” she said. “So probably our challenge was to teach the curriculum well, in a way that would be understood by students so that they would not only understand the content but perform well on that EOC.”
Sampson said QualityCore requires students to apply a higher level of thinking, which she thinks she has always required in her course.
“The rigor of the ACT QualityCore definitely requires students to address more of the higher depths of knowledge in relation to the Bloom’s Taxonomy, but this is essential in colleges and career fields,” she said.
Sampson believes the English II final she would have designed would have been more difficult because it would have entailed more recall of all texts read throughout the year and an analysis of those texts through an essay question.
“But I do like the EOC much better because it requires more critical thinking of texts using unread texts rather than recall and is more ACT-like in terms of what they will be assessed on within their junior year of schooling,” she said.
For future classes, Sampson said she will “look more at taking texts and analyzing them versus recalling facts or information from the reading passages. I will change the open-responses used in times past to more constructed responses. I will examine and show differences with students between figurative language, dramatic elements and rhetorical language.”
McMillen said he plans in the future to cover more specific U.S. history topics, such as industrialization, immigration and progressivism.
“You know, the first time you kiss a girl you’re nervous. The next time you’re ready to go,” he said. “That’s kind of the way we were. Now we at least have an idea.”
McMillan said he will continue to go over test-taking strategies with his students, especially on the timed constructed-response questions, which he said his students found challenging.
“Those are strategies that have been used in class throughout the year, and they should come as second nature to the student,” he said.
Johnson said she her biology students also struggled with the timed constructed-response questions.
“I recommend that teachers start including timed constructed responses so that students will become accustomed to this type of testing,” she said.
Nevitt said she will have to move her Algebra II students through the curriculum faster and she will embed review material throughout the year.
“We have to stay fresh on those concepts,” she said.
Despite the changes, McMillen advices teachers preparing to give the EOC test to “teach a good course. The rest will take care of itself.”
“We have no idea what the constructed responses are, we have no idea what the multiple-choice questions are going to be – but what we do know is what subjects they’re going to cover,” he said. “If you’re teaching a good history course, just continue to cover the subjects as thoroughly as you can and try to reach every one of the students in the class and they’ll be fine.
“I don’t think a whole lot has changed. Good teaching is good teaching, whether it’s algebra or English or history or biology, whether it’s 2012 or 1980, it’s still good teaching.”