Published: Friday, December 22, 2006
Alternative testing method assesses pupils' skill levels
Teachers use some everyday skills to help determine educational development.
By HAROLD GWIN
AUSTINTOWN The children were pictures of concentration as they carefully pounded tiny nails into wooden picture frames.
The room at Austintown Middle School was filled with the steady "tap, tap, tap" of hammers as fifth- and sixth-graders in the cognitive disabilities class worked on their projects.
Making the hinged, double picture frames Thursday served a dual purpose: Giving the children something to take home that they had made, and serving as a form of alternate assessment of their educational development.
Getting that state-mandated assessment done was the main focus of the project, said Kari Knight, who team-teaches the special education class with Kelli O'Malley.
The morning class was working on picture frames while the afternoon class of seventh- and eighth-graders tackled making toolboxes.
It's all part of the science portion of their educational assessment, Knight said.
Most children take the regular written state assessment tests. Some school districts that meet certain requirements in their special education programs (such as low academic performance), however, can get state permission to devise an alternate assessment project for their children who have difficulty with reading.
Only 1 percent of a district's total pupil population can be tested in this manner, O'Malley said.
There are four categories that must be tested: science, math, reading and social studies.
Having the children physically create something new with raw materials is part of the science assessment, Knight said, adding that the Home Depot store in Austintown donated the picture frame and toolbox kits for the effort.
The kits are the same ones Home Depot uses for its children's workshops on the first Saturday of every month, said Bill Flesse, head of the millwork department at Home Depot's Salem store and Knight's father. He volunteered on his day off to assist the Austintown children with their projects.
"This is enjoyable," he said, as he helped one youngster put a hinge on a picture frame.
"It's a way Home Depot kind of gives back to the community," he added, noting that other Home Depot stores have also done school outreach projects in the past.
Building picture frames and toolboxes is only one-third of the science assessment, Knight said.
The pupils will also be baking cookies from scratch and making punch, again showing how they can make something new with raw materials, she said.
The children's reading skills are lacking, so the assessment project took them to the movies and McDonald's for that portion of the test. They had to retell the story of the movie they saw and had to read the menu at the restaurant, Knight said, calling it, "Reading for a purpose."
The math assessment involved calculating their food bills and making a trip to make purchases at a local dollar store, she said.
For social studies, the children worked with time lines, stories in the newspaper and calendars, Knight said.
The total alternate assessment must be presented to the state by February, she said, complete with photo documentation of activities, observation statements from people who participated in some of the assessments and even pupil interviews.
Building Principal Daniel Bokesch was impressed with what he saw during Thursday's building project and offered his personal thanks to Home Depot for its assistance.
"How cool is this?" he asked as he watched the children working on their picture frames. "We've never seen anything like this before."