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Members of the H-F High Assessment Department, from left,
Micah Easter, Rachel Giddens, Tim Laba and David Kush
earned a Those Who Excel Award from the Illinois State
Board of Education for their outstanding work.

(Photo by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle)

Collecting data can be valuable. At Homewood-Flossmoor High School, a designated staff works on student assessment. They take it beyond the numbers working week after week to get a big picture view of students so the information can help teachers in the classroom.

“We always say (mandated testing) is the most and the least important thing we do. 

It’s got the most basic function but it’s not really what we want to be known for around here,” explains Assessment Department Chair David Kush. “It’s not where we want to put the emphasis. Our goal is to do the assessment cleanly and efficiently and spend our time helping teachers and students.”

Kush and Assessment Department Accommodations Coordinator Rachel Giddens, Assessment Coordinator Tim Laba and Office Manager Micah Easter have earned a Those Who Excel Award of Meritorious Service from the Illinois State Board of Education. The team was nominated for the honor by H-F administrators.

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Throughout the year, the department is collecting information from placement exams, standardized mandated tests, department exams, homework assignments, grades, honors, guidance counselors, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and teacher comments and storing all that in a computer program specially designed by staff member Gary Posing. That puts the information at the fingertips of all pertinent staff at H-F. 

Sharing the information between departments helps open up communication lines and helps the Assessment Department put the emphasis on how H-F looks at student/teacher interactions. That can be anything from giving a student a special accommodation, such as extended time to take an exam, to what a teacher can assess from a student’s expression in class, to what homework and lab assignments are turned in, Kush said.

Teachers find that having an understanding of a student’s thoughts, emotions, interests, background, past work and other information is what helps them assist every student in class. 

Kush said the department also suggests teachers try and interact with students in class. It can be as simple as giving an assignment and walking the aisles to see if a student is struggling. A 30-second conversation can give immediate information to the teacher, rather than giving a homework assignment and getting it back to the student three days later.  That can be lost time for some students, he notes.

“The issue we face as a nation is we give someone a standardized test but the exam score doesn’t really translate into the next day’s lessons very well,” he stressed. 

“When teachers are trying to help students, what matters is where they are in their class now and what steps need to be taken to help them learn that material.”

Testing mandates are taking more time away from lessons, but Kush said H-F does its best to limit the interruptions of the teaching routine.

“Things come at us from Springfield and Washington and we just work to protect the teachers and the students because at the end of the day, you can ask our parents and they want their kids in front of our teachers learning.”

Laba said the statistics he compiles are especially helpful at the start of the school year. The information gives teachers a heads-up on which students may need special help, a schedule change, etc. but after that it’s really the teacher whose day-to-day interactions make the difference in recognizing a student’s critical thinking skills, involvement with the materials and learning styles.

“As I’m instructing, I see the look on this student’s face. How can we gather that, or record that? How should I respond to that?” Laba explained. “We really try to get in to affect teaching and learning.”

“We’re fortunate in that for a long time I think (assessment) was just relegated to grading because that’s been so time consuming,” Kush said.  “As technology evolves we can really turn to teaching and learning points.  It’s not so much about generating a record of how the student did, it’s about providing information to the student and parent on how the student can increase their learning.”

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