Anxious parents dropped their kindergarten-aged kids off at Elk Grove schools today on the first day of school. None of them will be taking the STAR assessment tests that have been a mainstay of student evaluations for 14 years in California.
The Standardized Testing and Reporting tests are multiple choice exams that are taken beginning in the second grade and continue through high school. Critics say because they are used to assess teacher and school performance, it forced teachers to teach students to do well on the test rather than advance their learning.
Teachers have said that the goals of the tests made for boring lesson plans that fail to address the learning needs of many students.
The state is on the brink of approving a new “Common Core” standard that includes tests that will include more essays and word problems in math that will test more critical thinking skills. The Elk Grove Unified School District will begin phasing out the STAR tests this school year.
Director of Curriculum and Professional Learning Ann Zeman says the new assessments will be more student friendly.
“They will be interesting engaging assessments as well as adaptive to the level that the student needs,” said Zeman.
Some parents liked the STAR tests because there was a numeric score that could be compared with other students as well as other schools and school districts.
“We know that our daughter is in a good school or not,” said Alan Talavera, who has a 13-year-old daughter in middle school.
Ellis Jenkins, who has four kids in the Elk Grove District, including a daughter who is entering kindergarten says he welcomes the revised testing.
“That’s going to help her use her mind and use her knowledge to better herself in the future,” said Jenkins.
Even Talavera says he has no problem with getting away from the multiple choice STAR tests.
“For me the harder the test the better, it’s more challenging for [my daughter],” said Talavera.
Testing has traditionally been a tool for assessing the progress of students and to see if teaching methods are working. But they have often been used to evaluate the performance of teachers and schools. Realistically, the new tests will be used in the same way.
The Elk Grove district says new parent reports will used by 2015. But because the state is still creating new standards, just what for they will take is uncertain.
“We don’t know how it will look, whether it be a numeric score or whether it will be wording that explains how the student performed,” said Zeman.