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April 19, 2005

HSA survey results shed light on what Blazers want

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
During the week of March 14-18, 553 foreign language students participated in an informational survey intended to discover what would motivate them to take the High School Assessment (HSA) exams each May. The exams are part of the National No Child Left Behind Act, for which Blair has failed to meet the standards for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) the last two years.

Joseph Lynch, resource teacher for the Foreign Language Department, put the survey together initially, saying that it was just the beginning of the school wide plan designed to increase HSA scores at Blair. "This is one small component of a larger plan to increase HSA scores and HSA attendance," he said. "We wanted to see what things would entice kids" to attend the HSA's.

Lynch also asserted that much larger plans are underway through Blair's Instruction Leadership Team (ILT), which is comprised of all department heads and every member of the school administration. The survey, Lynch said, "is probably one percent of what we are doing. But it's also one of the only things that students have seen at this point. Every month for the past year, as an entire school, we work on the HSA's. We have been looking extensively at how to incorporate HSA strategies in class."

He also said that level-one and level-two foreign language classes were selected to take the survey because of the diversity in these classes. "Students who take foreign language come from every strata, because everyone can take it," Lynch explained. "If you go to an English class, for example, everyone will be a certain level, honors, AP, on-level. But if you look at foreign languages, at least in the lower levels, everyone can take it and everyone does take it."

The 15-question survey went through about five rounds of edits. It attempted to discover what students knew about the importance of standardized tests as well as what would entice them to attend school on test days and give their full effort on the exams. Each student was given the chance to write their own suggestions of what would motivate them to, as Lynch put it, "show and to try their best on the HSAs."

Sample questions were used to gauge student interest in various incentives. Some options included a chance to win a free car, free food on test day and thank you from Mr. Gainous.

If a student does not take the HSA's, he or she is not adversely affected because passing the tests are not a graduation requirement. However, the school is impacted severely, Lynch says. "The school gets a 'zero' if a student doesn't show up."

The results of the survey showed that 31 percent of all respondents believe that standardized tests are not important to their success in high school. Said Lynch, "We learned that first of all, we need to tell kids that these tests are important, because apparently a lot don't realize that."

When asked, "If you had to take a test in which it didn't matter how well you did, how hard would you try?" Sixty percent of those surveyed replied that they either would not try at all, would not try hard or would only do as much as they felt like doing. Only 26% replied that they would take the test seriously.

However, close to 70 percent of respondents said that they would "try their best" if they knew that a poor standardized test score would hurt their school, around the same percentage would try harder if they knew a good score would help Blair, a statistic which impressed Lynch. The results, he said, "showed that most people like this school and want to do their best to help it. Now we need to get the other 30 percent to understand that [the HSA's] are important."

According to the presentation submitted on March 21 by Lynch to the ILT, "95 percent of student respondents indicated that they would either try their best or make their usual effort to be in school on the day of a test if they knew their absence would hurt the school in some way."

In terms of the suggestions for incentives, Lynch said the survey's objective was to learn how students reacted to different potential enticers to raise HSA attendance. Lynch said, "Our intent was not to say, 'how can we best bribe our kids?' Our idea was to find what would most motivate kids in a positive way. We tried to put any option out there and see what kids reacted to."

The most positive reaction to an incentive was the hypothetical chance to win a free car on test day. That garnered an 83 percent positive response, meaning that nearly six in every seven students would be more enticed to attend the HSA if they could win a car.

That said, Lynch noted that the results do not necessarily mean that Blazers can expect to win a free car. "Even though the car got the highest positive response, it could be representative of something we'll try, but it doesn't mean we will give away a car. We're gathering knowledge. It's human nature," he said, "that if you're offered more, you'll be more enticed to do something."

The survey appeared to show that Blazers were more interested in material goods as incentives as opposed to kindness from Blair's administration. Only 35 percent of respondents said that a thank you from Mr. Gainous would further influence them to come to the HSA. Nearly the same said that a thank you would have "very little" or "not at all" of an impact in cajoling them to come take the tests.

Lynch added that there is no set cap on how much money can be spent on incentives, but that a thank you is not a bad idea. "I know that a thank you sounds insignificant, but it's free." Receiving encouragement from teachers emitted a positive response from just 40 percent of those surveyed, while free food garnered a 60 percent positive response.

Students also had the chance to suggest their own incentive, and Lynch noted that, while some were not helpful, the suggestions were all part of the information gathering process. "I think the most outlandish suggestion was to 'threaten the children with cattle prods.' I'm sure [the student] was being facetious, but we have to print all the suggestions."

Other popular replies included serving test takers free pizza and letting students leave after the test.

Lynch said that the final decision on what changes will be made for this year's HSA week is coming soon, and that, at the least, changes will be implemented. "I presented the findings the Wednesday before Spring Break," Lynch noted, emphasizing that it has been only two school weeks since the results of the survey came in. "But yes, we will make decisions for this year," he said.

He made clear that in addition to any potential incentives, getting teachers to base part of their daily lesson plan around HSA-related material was imperative. "Teaching HSA strategies in class is something you don't see because it's seamless," Lynch said.

"If we're doing it right, there should be more reading and writing in all classes", he said. "There should be at least one reading component every class period. And the reasoning is that if you read and interpret, you'll be good right off the bat."

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  • i want a car on April 19, 2005 at 2:50 PM
    of course people will come in to win a car
  • Anarchist on April 19, 2005 at 4:03 PM
    Uhhh... testing only low-level language classes leaves out everyone who took those classes in Middle School.

    That's...let's see...nearly all of Magnet and CAP? Yep! A bunch of honors students? Yep!

    Too bad the "imbiased" survey technique is patently flawed.
  • get over yourself on April 19, 2005 at 5:29 PM
    for once the magnet and cap were left out. deal with it.

    if they were to administer hsa's to the school, a majority of the test takers would be non-magnet/cap anyway...because thats simply the composition of our student body. so its best that they get a survey thats representative of test takers.

    also, because many magnet/cap students took foreign language in middle school, they are inherently more prepared for the test. most of them have taken levels of foreign language that may be beyond the content of the test.

    magnet/cap students are invited to come to the blair. they are a portion of the larger blair. theres thousands of students that you, anarchist, are ignoring by placing emphasis on magnet and cap students.

  • anon on April 19, 2005 at 6:37 PM
    To Saul...I mean...anarchist...
    CAP and Magnet were not really the target for this survey. CAP and Magnet were not the reason that Blair's failed AYP the past two years, which was the reason for this survey to be taken.
  • Anonymous on April 19, 2005 at 8:00 PM
    instead of conducting silly surveys, get the teachers of the classes that you take hsa's for to talk to students about the hsa and how it doesn't affect your success in high school directly, but affects blair's score, and eventually your own education. connections is also a good place to tell kids that, since the rest of the curriculum isn't very useful. if you tell freshmen, they'll know for the rest of their time in hs. that would leave out cap&magnet, but they don't need to be told. really.
  • J06 on April 19, 2005 at 8:18 PM
    haha, cattle prods
  • HSA's suck on April 19, 2005 at 9:10 PM
    "getting teachers to base part of their daily lesson plan around HSA-related material was imperative"

    HSA's are supposed to test what we've learned in class, not provide a curriculum of what to teach in class. We are spending so much time learning to take tests and succeed on tests that we don't get as much time learning as we should. Without the HSA's we should learn to read and write and I don't see how basing our teaching on the HSA's helps us.

    On the topic of incentives, our NSL teacher told us about what could happen if we fail the HSA's as a school. Government trained people would take over the school and rewrite the curriculum. Now that's scary considering that the curriculum of these people would be only towards learning to pass tests. I encourage all students to come to the HSA's and do their best so that this school can stay the way it is now, teachers free to teach their style and actually have kids learn not just be able to pass tests.
  • student on April 20, 2005 at 9:42 AM
    another cap/magnet factor that people have failed to consider is that most magnets will have already taken the math HSAs prior to coming to blair so they'll take fewer HSAs that affect blair and their performance will have less impact than that of a main-stream student.
  • Anarchist on April 20, 2005 at 10:14 AM
    I didn't mean to complain that CAP and Magnet were left out. In fact, I would be thrilled if CAP and Magnet were left out of the HSA-related activities entirely.

    I just meant that the process that was used to determine survey respondents was dumb, if they intended to get a cross-section of the school.

    I quote:
    "Students who take foreign language come from every strata, because everyone can take it," Lynch explained.

    This is not true in low-level language classes because a large proportion of higher-level students take those classes in middle school. And it's not true in high-level classes because not everyone makes it that far. So Mr. Lynch is just wrong.
  • anon on April 20, 2005 at 10:49 AM
    y does it matter if the cap and magnet are included? its supposed to be unbiased, and it was. There are some CAP and Magnet students in those classes, and it was chosen fer DIVERSITY, not cuz of the percentage of magnet/CAP. I don't kno what Anarchist is talking about. Why don't you think a lil before you say something?
  • Cathy Johnson (View Email) on April 20, 2005 at 11:54 AM
    Will the HSA ever be required for graduation? That would be a good motivator.
  • Anarchist on April 21, 2005 at 11:50 AM
    anon seems to be laboring under a misconception about the meaning of "unbiased". Whenever the sample contains a small number of one segment of a population because of the sampling technique, that sample is called "biased."

    Why don't you take statistics before spouting off about something you don't understand?
  • 07heaven on April 21, 2005 at 5:42 PM
    ok so what does it matter about CAP and Magnet being slightly underrepresented in the poll-taking. of 3500 students at blair, well under 700 are magnet/CAP, and many of these students at some point take latin 1/2 or spanish 1/2 if they did not take it in middle school.

    by the way, i think more time should be spent on teaching rather than testing.
  • eve on April 21, 2005 at 6:37 PM
    Hey 'Anarchist'-

    I am in CAP, and I'm in a lower level Spanish class. Foreign language has nothing to do with the CAP/Magnet programs, and, I'll have you know that there are a handful of CAP and Magnet students in my class.

  • The Point on April 21, 2005 at 6:57 PM
    Gosh, all of you are reading too deep into this and completely missing the point to Anarchist's comments. His/Her point is not that magnets and CAPs are left out, but it's that many people were not included in this, so it is not biased. Believe it or not, there are kids NOT in magnet and CAP that took these classes in middle school. ::gasp:: And all of those students were not represented. I assume that Anarchist said mangets and CAPs because he/she is in one of these programs and knows for a fact that very few are in level 1/2 of any language.

    If they really wanted a diverse group, they should have taken kids from the lower levels AND kids from the high levels. Or gym, since gym classes are very diverse. [Except for 8th period gym...]
  • Anarchist on April 22, 2005 at 12:22 AM
    Sampling is an art that ought to be a science. I am sure Silver Chips can attest to the difficulty of finding a simple random sample of Blair's population, as they have had to abandon that notion for their polls (that's why Chips calls their polls "informal").

    The scientific way would be to obtain a copy of Blair's enrollment list, assign a number from 1-3400 to each student and choose a predetermined number of them at random (say, 100). Then, give a survey to each student selected. This process would not be so hard with a computer. Only someone with access to the school's records could do it, however.

    If a sampling method involves picking a few classes (and especially when not choosing those classes at random!) then it is by definition biased. Ask Mr. Stein.
  • lysa-n-liza on April 22, 2005 at 3:02 PM
    do we have to pass the HSA? so that we can graduation.... what happen if we don't pass the HSA?
  • hello on April 24, 2005 at 9:03 PM
    man what are hsa's?
  • PLEASE on April 27, 2005 at 11:35 AM
    Just because you sent students to take a stupid test to make them come to the HSA's doesn't mean that they will be motivated to come. Maby if you will let us leave early when the HSA's are throught you'll probably get more to come but I can't garented you that all will come. Face it the HSA's are nothing but a test that some people see it as a way to stay out of school even since it won't effect thier oppertunity to graduate.
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