Standardized testing has changed since the days of filling in small circles for a week straight and then waiting four months for results.

Now, in local Catholic grade schools, computer-generated tests take only four periods and instantaneous results allow teachers to adjust immediately to students’ needs. The tests, which cover reading and math, are administered four times per year to students in grades K through 8. 

Catholic schools aren’t obligated to follow Oregon’s public school testing regimen, so they don’t. Instead, Catholic schools five years ago moved up to the next level. It’s called Renaissance Star.

As students answer questions, the program adjusts, sending harder questions to students who are doing better and simpler questions to those who are struggling.

It’s a fuller way to determine which skill a child should learn next, said Amy Jefferis, associate superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.

“Now we can really use the tests to help drive our instruction,” said Jefferis, a longtime teacher and principal. The results, she added, are particularly helpful during distance learning, when separation makes it more challenging to assess individual needs. The tests often include audio elements.

The tests can be adjusted to increase the rigor, since Catholic school students are used to that. Religious elements also can be added.   

Julie Johnson, principal of Holy Cross School in North Portland, tries neither to overemphasize nor underemphasize the testing. 

“It’s one data point among many, an important piece of information, especially in math and language arts,” Johnson said. “We look at it as an opportunity to see student growth.” Tests help teachers check if a student needs to go over lessons again or can move ahead of the class.

Blanchet Catholic School in Salem, which is not an archdiocesan school, uses a similar testing plan. Its students are in grades 6-12.

“We use testing not to compare people, but to gauge where students are and take the next steps,” said Robin Smith, principal of Blanchet. “It’s one of multiple tools.”

Smith warned educators, parents and students not to put too much stock in testing, since students learn in different ways and some underperform in testing. Like Johnson, he takes the tests seriously but does not give them a lot of emphasis.

edl@catholicsentinel.org