What are the STAR tests? What's their point? Do they help kids learn? Do they help schools perform better? Or, are they about $$$--for the schools, who rely on rising scores for federal funding under No Child Left Behind; or for local homeowners and realtors, who count on the top scores of their local public schools to maintain area property values?
The state Department of Education says the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program, which began in 1998, is supposed to measure students' achievement of "state academic content standards." The results of STAR tests form the basis of a school and a district's Academic Performance Index (API) .
You read a lot about API scores when they are announced. We all look to them, including us parents, to rate the quality of local schools.
But is this rating worth all the trouble, especially in the way the testing and scoring affects classroom learning? A few years back, one of my son's teachers, at back-to-school-night, bluntly told parents that she "teaches to the test." So do other teachers, whether they want to or not. These tests also take several days--up to a week, my son says--out of the school year. Could teachers and kids spend that time more productively? Could they spend that time actually teaching and learning?
Not everyone in the education and parent community supports the STAR program. I was reminded of this fact via an e-mail I received this week from a Danville mother, Kerry Dickinson, who has emerged as a local education activist and was instrumental last year in pushing the San Ramon Valley Unified School District to debate and revise its homework policy.
In her e-mail, which she sent out to friends, Kerry says:
Did you know that your child does not have to take the STAR tests this spring? I’m writing to let you know about a program called “Operation Opt Out.” You can find out more about it here: http://www.calcare.org/
Here’s my opinion on the subject: I believe that standardized tests can play a beneficial role in a child’s education, but I believe that the way in which they are currently used are ineffective in helping most children learn. If standardized tests were given only occasionally (and never in the lower elementary grades) and the results were seen by teachers and administrators only, and were used as internal measures, then I would not have an issue with children taking them.
What has happened, however, is that standardized test scores are talked about in PTA meetings, are advertised in the newspapers, are used to sell houses in neighborhoods, are used to compare one school to another, one school district to another, one state to another, and one country to another. We all know that a child’s education is made up of many different components, and tests are just one small piece of this experience.
Unfortunately, the focus in education has turned too often to grades, scores, and other measurable results, like standardized test scores. I have two children. One of them (a ninth grader) will continue to take the standardized tests, and the other one (my 7th grader) will not take the STAR tests until my husband and I feel it is beneficial to his learning.
I visited with one of my 7th grader's teachers and his counselor at school recently and explained our reasons for not wanting him to take the STAR tests this spring. My husband and I wrote the principal an “opt out” letter. We will do something beneficial with him those two days in May, instead.
By sending out this email I am not necessarily suggesting you do this for your child. But, I am showing you that this is an option for you, should you struggle with this issue, as we do, with one of our children, in particular.