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Gainesville schools to test second-graders on thinking
CogAT phrases questions unusually
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Teachers aren't just concerned with what students learn. They're also concerned with how they think.

To find that out Gainesville City Schools will be administering the Cognitive Abilities Test to all second-graders.

"Our hope is by looking at some of the patterns of reasoning ability, we will have some insight into our achievement scores," said Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards for the system.

"It's not a measure we have access to from any other test or assessment we give."

The test was budgeted into the district's gifted education budget for 2011.

"There are no plans right now to give the (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test) in second grade, so we felt it was a good place," Bell said.

"It'll give them some experience with standardized tests and it won't interfere with other testing events."

In Gainesville schools, the CogAT was last administered to an entire grade level in 1999.

Since then it has only been given to students who were referred to the system's gifted program.

"Not only will it help us identify gifted students, but it'll show us the needs of all students," said Bertha Shields, gifted instructor at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy. "This will reach out to our (English Speakers of Other Languages) students because there's a nonverbal component. It'll help them get access to services they might not normally get but might need."

The test has nonverbal, verbal and quantitative sections. Unlike the CRCT and other similar standardized tests, the CogAT phrases questions and directions in an unusual way.

In the verbal section, students are given questions based on categorization and sentence completion.

Quantitative questions might give students numbers and a plus sign and ask them to create an equation that results in one of the answer choices. The nonverbal section is the most out of the ordinary.

"It's very interesting because a lot of our students really excel with this kind of thing, but it's typically not a way we teach things," Bell said.

A nonverbal question, for example, might show three shapes and the answer is a shape with similar characteristics. It is this section that provides most popularity with teachers, as students don't have to have a background in the English language to reason through the question.

The results of the CogAT allow teachers and administrators to provide individualized instruction based on the students' reasoning ability.

"For a student who overall had low reasoning ability, we could focus on their working memory skills. If you've got a very complex task that is requiring them to keep a lot of information in their working memory, you can make some of that information more accessible," Bell said. "If they need a fact chart to help them while they're working through a math problem, that would help them keep less in their working memory at a time."

For students with high reasoning ability, Bell said teaching them to self-monitor their work and edit their work would be appropriate instruction.

But it's not just the high and low reasoning ability that can be individualized. The CogAT results develop a profile for every student, which lets faculty teach to students' strengths and help address any weaknesses, Bell said.

The information gleaned from CogAT is expected to increase students' scores on standardized tests as it will help teachers learn how their students achieve.

Audrey Thornton, the new gifted instructor at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, said she is looking forward to administering CogAT to her class. She has given it before but only to students being screened for the gifted program.

"When I give the CRCT, I see what I taught them. This is different," she said. "Rather than saying this child doesn't get three-by-two math, you might say they don't understand how the numbers work. It also looks like it's a more fun test — it's all puzzles and logic."