Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Skinny on STAR testing

What is STAR testing?

“Each spring, California students take a battery of standardized tests that comprise the state's STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) Program. The key component of the program measures students’ achievement of state academic content standards. The program began in 1998.

All students in grades 2-11 participate in the STAR Program, including students with disabilities and students who are English learners.

California's school accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API) is based primarily on results from the STAR program, as well as the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).”

[Taken from… http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/articles/Article.asp?title=Understanding%20the%20STAR]

I’d like to mention two often unknown facts about STAR testing.

Fact # 1. STAR testing is NOT mandatory. That is, parents can have their children opt out of STAR testing if they wish by simply writing a letter to the school’s principal.

“Parents may request in writing to the principal that a student not be tested.

[Taken from… http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/articles/Article.asp?title=Understanding%20the%20STAR]

According to California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Education, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75, Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, sections 852:

“(a) A parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Education Code section 60640. A school district and its employees may discuss the Standardized Testing and Reporting program with parents and may inform parents of the availability of exemptions under Education Code section 60615. However, the school district and its employees shall not solicit or encourage any written exemption request on behalf of any child or group of children.”

[Taken from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/admin.asp]

When my children were in elementary school, I wasn’t aware that STAR testing was optional. If I had known then what I know now, I would have opted out of STAR testing in grades 2-5. At grade 6 my husband and I would have evaluated the benefits versus drawbacks of the testing, and re-evaluated our decision based on the specific needs of each of our children.

Last year, when I became aware that this testing was optional, we decided to opt out of the STAR test for our 7th grader who has test anxiety and other learning issues. This year we have decided to have him take it in 8th grade primarily for one reason: practice for the California Exit Exam (CAHSEE) which he is required to take, and pass in 10th grade, in order to graduate from high school.

I believe that standardized tests are not preparation for life, but are preparation for more standardized tests. And these tests play a big role in institutionalized education for many years for our children. If our children want to achieve a satisfactory result on these tests, they will have to practice taking them. However, I firmly believe that they do not need to begin practicing these tests until the middle school years, and then only if the benefits of taking the tests outweigh the detriments. That must be determined by each family depending on the needs of each individual child.

Fact # 2. Teachers are not supposed to teach to the STAR test.

Education Code Section 60611:

“a) A city, county, city and county, or district superintendent of schools or principal or teacher of any elementary or secondary school shall not carry on any program of specific preparation of the pupils for the statewide pupil assessment program or a particular test used therein.”

b) A city, county, city and county, district superintendent of schools, principal, or a teacher of an elementary or secondary school, including a charter school, may use instructional materials provided by the department or its agents in the academic preparation of pupils for the statewide pupil assessment if those instructional materials are embedded in an instructional program that is intended to improve pupil learning.

I was a bit annoyed yesterday when my 8th grader came home with a word search of math terms for Algebra homework. I see little value in an assignment like this and see it as busy work. It seems to be a waste of the student's and teacher's time. In addition to that, when I asked my son what he was doing in Algebra this week, he said he was copying down terms from the glossary to prepare for STAR testing. Again, I see this as a waste of all 8th grader's valuable class time.

I would like to see more constructive use of class time where students are actively engaged in learning about Algebra instead of a narrow focus on one component of the STAR test (math terms from the glossary). I would also like to see either no homework or homework that is a valuable extension of the learning that really helps students become interested and engaged in Algebra.

How do we get students to begin thinking like mathematicians? Certainly not by doing word searches and copying terms from the glossary to prepare for STAR testing!

What has your experience been with standardized testing?


  1. An interesting note: My son in 11th grade figured out that there was no real reason for him to take the star test and he went into the test room at the high school politely and listened to all the instructions and then tried to turn the test in without taking it. The proctor insisted that he take it, and so he went back to his desk and bubbled in all the answers and then turned it in. He was then escorted to the principals office and ask to wait to talk to him. My son politely declined and came home. I never heard a work from the school about this incident. He used to have a lot of anxiety about taking the star test, and he said the teachers told him in elementary school, colleges looked at the test scores. When he realized this was not true he felt pretty upset and betrayed. I was proud that he made the choice to not take the test. He was a 17 year old boy who was actually thinking...why????

  2. My third grader has been bringing home practice sections of the test for homework for the past 3 weeks. She has complained that they are not reading and answering questions from Time for Kids because they have to be ready for the test. They are also spending a lot of class time prepping. My daughter does well on the test, so I can't imagine the principal reacting positively to us opting out. I do feel too much emphasis is placed on a test that does not give an accurate view of what a child has learned.

  3. I am constantly amazed at the useless exercises beaurocracies device for their people in the name of 'good'. Costa Rica for all its red tape has avoided adding this layer to it's cake and our children are not pushed to these 'tests'. - Co-Founder, Nueva Hoja School in Costa Rica

  4. I tell my kids not to sweat it. It is testing the teacher and the school, not you. And yes, both my kids are bringing home practice tests, and being taught to the test. You can always tell when Star Testing is about to begin--extra homework is being sent home.

  5. It should be clear that
    *STAR test are untimed, so no stress for any student.
    * For students with either 504 plan or I.E.P.
    The team have to discuss ahead what should be consider for the STAR test as accomodation or modification. Look into

    and make sure that what ever apply will be

  6. My opinion of STAR testing is that it is ONLY relevant in gathering information if there is a level starting point. That would mean NO students taking the test could be in tutoring or have ever had tutoring in order to know for a fact "how" the school is teaching the materials, or if the students understand the material, or how the school is performing.
    Otherwise STAR testing results are, in fact, false results...because the results are based on the knowledge gained by having been taught in class AND by tutors thus: teachers AND tutors combined.

  7. I have opted my children out every year. The scores do not help inform instruction - and that is what is most important.

  8. My 11th grader insists that California colleges look at the STAR test numbers. Is this true?

  9. In response to the comment above, I emailed two principals. Here's the response from the middle school principal:

    "My understanding is that colleges and universities do not generally consider individual STAR scores for entrance. I have heard of isolated occasions where the STAR scores have been included in the overall profile of a student.

    It's very difficult to generalize about colleges, though, Kerry. They each have their own procedures and needs. You might want to contact the counseling department at the high school; they would have the most up-to-date information on admission procedures."

  10. Star testing does effect our kids' grades...it is in Schoolloop for my son's history class....weighted just as much as a regular TEST...oh and it dropped his grade from an "A" to a "B"....
    YES I AM MAD!!!!!!

  11. The schools don't like to make it known that parents can opt out of the tests for their kids because they get penalized if not enough kids per subgroup take the exam. The district my kids go to school in got spanked a few years back because too many special ed kids were opting out.

  12. is it true that California Modified Assessment is used if the a student does not do well on the STAR testing? I also heard that because of No Child left behind they modified test so students can pass?

    Are these true?

  13. You can check out this link for more information on your first question:http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/cmastar.asp

    I don't know the answer to your second question, but I did hear about an elementary school principal who suggested to a parent that her son's STAR test scores didn't have to be included with the rest of the school's scores because they were low. This principal is no longer employed at the school.

  14. I can answer the question about the California Modified Assessment (CMA) tests.

    CMA's are still testing for grade level appropriate work. The tests are formatted differently though. Generally there is less text/questions per page.

    One of my children took the CMA for Language Arts last year (then a 3rd grader with a Language Processing Disorder) and his resource teacher showed me a sample CMA with a sample CST for the same grade level.

  15. At our high school the principal is giving students parking passes, off campus passes, and ASB cards for free year books and prom tickets if the students increase their scores by 3% over last year OR score in the ADVANCED level of each test. Isn't this bribing our students to do well on a test that assesses the SCHOOL while making us PAY FEES for tests that assess the STUDENT? this is Westlake High School

  16. As a teacher I hate giving the STAR test. I teach second grade. We do teach the kids how to take the test, but only in the form of how to read the questions, understand what they are asking and eliminate the incorrect answers. This is the first time these kids are taking a teat like this.

    Although I don't think the test is a good way to measure students progress, i don know that my students must do well. Schools who do not do well, are in jeopardy of loosing funds. These schools go into school improvement. What little funds we get are then used for teacher education instead of allowing us to add more programs that can help the kids.
    This test is designed to trick the kids. We don't teach using the language the test writers use. So if teachers are teaching/prepping for the test, it is my experience that they are teaching how to take a test and reviewing skills that kids have learned, but then have forgotten

  17. The lady above my post is a teacher? Really? Hell, I'd me anonymous too if I couldn't punctuate or spell and I taught 2nd grade.

    Anyway, Thanks for posting the information on STAR testing. Your blog has more information about it than anyplace else. My son has Aspergers and the testing makes him so anxious and depressed that I started opting him out two years ago. No one at their school, ever once mentioned that a child can "opt out" of this test.

    I home school both of my children but we have a "home school" where we attend class once a week per child. The amount of testing each month is mind boggling. It never stops.

    So, thanks so much for providing this information.


  18. Oops - typo up there... supposed to be "be" not "me." ouch.

  19. I want to know what would happen in a group of parents unified pulled out and then invalidated the entire test for the school. I issue with the test is that we are in a school with a majority population of english language learners. I feel the majority of the school year is spent preparing these students simply to take and succeed on the test, meanwhile other students are just lost learning nothing all year but how to fill out a bubble on a scantron!

  20. At our high school, they announced the day before STAR testing that students who improved their score by 100 points, would be entered in a raffle for 15 i-pads, i-phones and other i-items. E-mails to the vice principal and principal inquiring about the source of funding of these thousands of dollars remained unanswered. An e-mail to the local newspaper revealed the principal's answer: we just do what most schools do - still no answer as to where the funding is coming from or about the unfairness of rewarding (bribing) underachievers. My child scored in the 500-point range since grade school - I will definitely opt him out next year. I wish more parents would avail themselves of this option! It is up to us parents to put a stop to the stupidity of STAR testing per se and the bribing of students!

  21. Incredible! Well, maybe not so much! The STAR bribery is insane. I was able to get many of these processes and 'incentives' comepletely eliminated at our local High School...under the Federal Right to Privacy Act, no child's test score or achievement level can be made public however that is EXACTLY what these 'incentives' do....they demean and degrade those left behind and make public their achievement level. Our high school would let kids out early who scored x, have a BBQ for those who scored y, and those who improved z would get to stand up in class and receive candy from the principal! Insane. Well, we got all of this banished in one fell swoop...do the same....I encourage you all....do the same!!!

  22. When I opted my children out of the STAR testing this year by sending a letter to the principal and their teacher, I received phone calls in return urging me to have them tested because they are currently performing far beyond most students. They wanted the higher scores added to the school average to bring up the scores so the school would look better. I had explained that hours of testing stresses out my Aspergers child and my other child is a type 1 diabetic and she goes through severe blood sugar highs due to the stress. After having to reexplain these reasons, already outlined in the letter I had sent I still got a third call. I realize they want to keep their average STAR scores high to attract extra funding and students buT the truth is I HOMESCHOOL MY CHILDREN. They report to a central public school to hand in their monthly work and also attend optional classes for 3 hours a week each. Since my kids are scoring so high on their benchmark tests and their work is considered exceptional why should I force them to go through the STAR testing?

    At least no one at our school has suggest bribery to induce children to perform better on the STAR testing. I think I would have to take that up with the district.

    1. Our issue is similar..the virtual school my kids attend is pressuring us to do a different standardized test at a location other than our home in the place of star since we opted out. Seems to me they are being "sneaky".

  23. I have a few questions.

  24. I am really curious to know why ALL students aren't tested for Star-testing. I had no idea that they could "opt-out". I only recently became aware of this. One school scored high on the test, higher than our school. This school just opened up last year, and last week actually flew a plane over our school w/ a banner saying "We ARE the Champions!!!!" during our schools 4th, 5th, and 6th lunch hour! What was the point of that? I am also now finding out that over 100 of their students DID NOT take the test, and some kids took part of it, not all of the test. Please some one explain this to me- I thought all enrolled kids had to take all of it. All of ours did- How can the score be fair if all kids did not take the test? Also, are the schools penalized if not all students only take part of the test's sub-group? I have been recieving my neighborhood paper for the last two weeks with the front page showing this school, and saying, " This school outshined all schools in the district" and "First-year charter school sets test pace for the county!!!" How can that be legitimate?

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