January 25, 2013

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

New assessment survey of religious education is being used in parishes, schools

Preston Saddler, an 8th grader at St. Bartholomew School in Columbus, dips a finger into a holy water font at St. Bartholomew Church on Dec. 5, 2012, while on his way to a school Mass. In January, schools and religious education programs across the archdiocese started to use the Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education to help learn about the knowledge and practice of students’ faith. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Preston Saddler, an 8th grader at St. Bartholomew School in Columbus, dips a finger into a holy water font at St. Bartholomew Church on Dec. 5, 2012, while on his way to a school Mass. In January, schools and religious education programs across the archdiocese started to use the Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education to help learn about the knowledge and practice of students’ faith. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

In January, students in Catholic schools and religious education programs across central and southern Indiana began experiencing a change in the way that their knowledge and practice of the faith is assessed.

In years past, students in the third, sixth, eighth and 11th grades took a yearly exam developed by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis called Faith 2000.

That assessment tool has now been replaced by one developed approximately 30 years ago by the National Catholic Education Association called the Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education (ACRE), which has been updated at various times up to the present.

Students in the sixth, eighth and 11th grades will take ACRE.

“[Faith 2000] served us well,” said Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis. “But because we’re not in the business of standardized assessment, the annual process of administering Faith 2000 had become a little cumbersome. So from a stewardship prospective, if we could find something similar it was time to look for a different alternative.”

ACRE is made up of three sections. One tests students on their knowledge of the faith. Another shows to what extent they practice the faith and what their attitudes are toward it. And the final section on perceptions will help parents, administrators and teachers see if there are problems, such as alcohol abuse, in a school or parish catechetical program that need to be addressed.

“The knowledge information is really important,” Ogorek said. “I also think that some of the attitudes, practices and perceptions information can give some real insight into what kids are dealing with.

“To me, that information can be helpful not only for classroom teachers, but also from a campus ministry standpoint as activities like class retreats are planned.”

Individual student results of the knowledge section of ACRE will be shared with administrators and teachers. For the sections on practices, attitudes and perceptions, a report on grade levels in each school or program is offered.

Results will also be sent to the student or parents by April, Ogorek said. Administrators and teachers will receive results at the same time.

“That gives them time to work sooner rather than later as they set goals, especially for the next year,” he said. “And it will allow that individual student report to get home to mom and dad sooner rather than later.”

The use of ACRE for planning shows that the test isn’t simply intended to determine a student’s knowledge and practice of the faith.

“Assessments like Faith 2000 and ACRE also give a principal or director of religious education insight into how the overall program is doing,” Ogorek said. “If the sacraments scores, for example, show a pattern of struggle, then it could be that the faculty needs to brush up their knowledge of the sacraments.”

Ogorek also said that there is an advantage to ACRE because it is used by several dioceses across the country.

“It can be helpful to know where our efforts stand in relation to how other dioceses are doing in these areas,” he said.

One of the dioceses in which ACRE is used is the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Deacon Vic Satter is the religion teacher for the seventh and eighth grades at St. Louise de Marillac School in Pittsburgh. He has seen firsthand how ACRE can help him pass on the faith more effectively to his students.

“The ACRE test is a great tool to evaluate the approach we are taking in catechesis,” Deacon Satter said. “It helps us to determine from year to year what areas of faith formation need more emphasis and those which need less.

“As a school, the students of St. Louise have done rather well on this test. Therefore, it is an affirmation to all catechists in the school as to the quality job we are doing in introducing sacred Scripture and presenting the teachings, history and sacramental life of the Church.”

Ogorek said that the purpose of using an assessment tool like ACRE is ultimately to help religion teachers and catechists answer a question at the heart of their ministry: “Am I getting through to the kids?”

“That’s why we do assessment of all different types,” Ogorek said. “So, my hope is that ACRE will both show our teachers and catechists that, by God’s grace, they are helping to shine the light of faith in the lives of young people.

“The flip side of that is that there’s always room for improvement. Our hope would be that ACRE would identify specific areas where some improvement might be a focus for a catechetical leader out there in a school or parish program.” †

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