Stakes high in Woodland’s CAPT testing

BEACON FALLS — Standardized test-taking season is approaching for students across the state, and this year the pressure is on for students at Woodland Regional High School.

“If we fail our tests, they will not let us get our diplomas,” said Rachael Conti, a member of the Woodland class of 2011, the first to handle the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) as a graduation requirement. “This just adds to the other 20 pounds of stress already put on [students]. Between homework, taking notes and tests, I don’t know if I can balance it all.”

In reality, there is no way to “fail” the CAPT. Both the CAPT, taken each year by 10th graders, and the Connecticut Mastery Test, administered to students in grades 3-8, rate student performance on a five-level scale: below basic, basic, proficient, goal and advanced. Students are tested in math, reading, writing and science.

Woodland’s requirement is that all students score at least proficient in all four categories, though it is unlikely the school will actually withhold diplomas. Juniors who did not score well enough last year, as sophomores, may retake the CAPT this year. Woodland Principal Dr. Arnold Frank mailed a letter to parents last month, urging them to encourage their children to do so. Frank estimates 60 current juniors, roughly 30 percent of the class, are eligible retake the exam next month.

If students’ scores are still inadequate or they do not retake the test, they will be required to take and pass a CAPT skills course as seniors. While Frank and English teacher Paul Geary are still developing the curriculum, the principal said it will consist of reading, writing and thinking skills students need, in order to do well on the exam. Materials for the course will include original lessons and questions from previous CAPTs.

“[The policy] clearly puts more pressure on students,” Frank said. “I hope [students] take the CAPT more seriously and pay more attention in class.”

Conti agrees with the pressure part of Frank’s rationale, but said she doesn’t believe the new policy is fulfilling its purpose.

“Honestly, some kids do not even realize what effect [the CAPT] can have,” she said. “They forget about it. I have not really heard anyone talk about the test, so I don’t think they’re taking it more seriously.”

Last year, the high school, as a whole, surpassed No Child Left Behind requirements. In math, 83.9 percent scored proficient or better, up from 82.2 percent in 2008; and in reading, the figure was 84.1 percent, an improvement upon the previous year’s 80.2 percent. The class of 2011 performed even better on the writing section—93.1 percent were at least proficient, almost five percentage points better than the state average.

“We still have some work to do and always will,” Superintendent of Schools James C. Agostine said at the time, “because the bar always is getting raised.”

The aim of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is for 100 percent of public school students to be proficient or better in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year. Each year, every Connecticut school receives a report card, indicating whether it has made adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward that end. For 2009, the AYP standard on the CAPT was 80 percent in math and 81 percent in reading. Those standards rose from about 70 percent in 2008 and will increase again, to about 90 percent, in 2011.

While school systems statewide have bolstered their efforts to prepare students for standardized tests, Conti claims some concepts tested by the CAPT are foreign.

“The CAPT questions basically go over everything we learned, however some of the questions on the CAPT were not even taught to us yet,” she said. “So, if one [student] has a teacher that is behind, those kids may suffer from not knowing the criteria.”

Woodland students will take the CAPT during the first two weeks of March.