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New Testing Unveiled for California Schools, Would Reduce STAR Testing

The state superintendent's plan would emphasize critical thinking skills. Some STAR testing may be suspended. Do you think this is a move in the right direction?

In the near future, California students will be thinking a lot more and filling in fewer bubbles when they take standardized statewide tests.

At a news conference Tuesday, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson  unveiled a new testing system for schools statewide.

The new tests follow the guidelines set forth in the Common Core State Standards. Those recommendations were put together last year by a task force that studied new testing methods under a mandate by the state Legislature.

If approved by state legislators, the new testing system would begin in the 2014-2015 school year.

The superintendent is planning to suspend STAR Program assessments for the coming school year unless the exams are specifically mandated by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or used for the Early Assessment Program (EAP).

This change would suspend STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course exams at the high school level.

Torlakson said the current testing system has improved student learning throughout the state, but it's time to move to a different kind of assessment.

“We're moving to a new dimension, a higher dimension,” said Torlakson.

Torlakson has made a dozen recommendations to the legislature for the Statewide Pupil Assessment System.

One of the keys is to move away from memorization of knowledge and focus more on students' critical thinking, analytical skills and problem solving.

State leaders said the new tests will measure the ability of students to understand and use what they have learned.

“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore and it’s time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” said Torlakson.

What do you think of a different kind of testing?

Russell Person January 11, 2013 at 02:55 PM
"Torlakson said the current testing system has improved student learning throughout the state, but it's time to move to a different kind of assessment". I reference the above statement from the article to make a point. Testing should exist only to help teachers gauge their own performance, not student performance. Public schools have been blaming students and families for poor performance for decades. Home-schooled students have been outscoring public school students by more than 30 percent since the 1970's. If you want to discuss academic performance, talk to parents who homeschool, not the superintendent and members of the teachers union.
Lorenzo January 11, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Charter Schools as well with non Union Teachers. Great observation.
navigio January 11, 2013 at 08:25 PM
Well, Torlakson said that because he (and most other people) believe(s) that tests are not there as a job evaluation tool, rather as a way to identify students' academic levels, ie to identify intervention and placement needs. Its also worth noting that standardized tests are explicitly NOT developed as a teacher measure (just one of the many reasons using it for that is such a bad idea). In fact, it seems somewhat absurd to spend all this time and money on something if it were to do nothing more than measure teachers. School should be about learning not a job fair. Also, if homeschooled kids do better (assuming that's even true), its for the same reason that any child with engaged parents does better, regardless of where they go to school. Homeschooling per se has nothing to do with it.
Elizabeth J. Sawyer-Cunningham January 11, 2013 at 11:49 PM
California had one o the best tests years ago when the tests were CLAS - California Language Assessment Series which were developed for multiple grade levels. These tests were based on Language and Literature textbooks being used in CA schools. In addition to some multiple choice questions, there were collaborative activities as components. These tests not only measured the students' skills, but also fostered team learning - something employers want people to know how to work in the modern workplace. These tests were developed by teachers representing the grade levels to be tested. The state discontinued these tests in favor of the STAR tests which are not as comprehensive. Now, Torlaksen et al have figured out that these multiple choice tests don't accurately assess what students have learned. WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED?
Elizabeth J. Sawyer-Cunningham January 11, 2013 at 11:56 PM
These tests also encouraged critical thinking and analysis of reading selections as part of the collaborative section of the tests during which teams of students who had the same reading selection got to share and brainstorm ideas before writing an essay covering all the points the group had developed. I spent two years of monthly trips to Sacramento working on the high school levels of these tests, and my students loved these tests because they said, "they didn't feel like tests."
Melody Comfort January 12, 2013 at 07:40 AM
I can't help but wonder if egos are what drive the acceptance of testing procedures and textbook adoptions. People want to make a name for themselves -- to become "notables" in their field. So, they convince legislators that their supposed innovative ideas and choices are the way to move forward. That said, it is always advisable, in my view, to prepare youth for life by supporting their growth in critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as effective problem solving. This creates enabled human beings, who can think for themselves when challenged by life's ongoing unique circumstances. The new testing format will take longer to grade, but can provide a more realistic gauge of each student's abilities to understand and to apply knowledge gained in various subjects of study.
Melody Comfort January 12, 2013 at 07:44 AM
Elizabeth, do you think that STAR was chosen to "streamline" the testing process, and to ease the intensity of the grading process, thus saving money? It looks that way to me.
Melody Comfort January 12, 2013 at 07:58 AM
If Torlakson actually said that a testing system (regardless of the system) improved student learning, that is a false statement. Testing is an assessment tool. Teaching and experiencing improve student learning. Testing evaluates: how effectively a teacher has passed knowledge on to a student; how effectively a student has assimilated knowledge; and, how well a student understands the test-taking process and can perform under test-stress. I am surprised that a person at his educational level of expertise would make such an incorrect statement.
Liz H. January 12, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Yes, I remember CLAS, and I, too, thought it had some good points. On the math test, kids had to solve at least one relatively difficult "real-world" problem where they were asked to show every step involved in the solution, explain why they were applying those steps, and explain what the answer meant in the context of the original problem. Demanding stuff, but also kind of fun. I also remember the science test (which I believe was the only test that involved group work), but it required a lot of set-up, and it could only be successful in classes where teachers were already organizing science as a hands-on, group-style activity. In the end--which I believe came after only two or three years--the CLAS died because it took forever to get the results back and because much of it had to be scored at the hands of many many actual human beings, who, by the way, had to be paid. There was also a faction of opponents who believed that the test was part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to undermine all the usual whatever. Enter standardized testing: cheaper, easier to score, easier to compare performance across schools and districts, easier to administer, and much more politically viable.
Liz H. January 12, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Part 2 I liked the CLAS, but I agree with Torlakson and others that standarized testing has had a positive effect on kids, in general. I also think that teacher performance has improved over the years largely because of STAR. Anybody who doubts this might want to take a look at some of the CST released test questions available at the CDE website, and then imagine for a moment what kind of energy it takes a teacher to get students to read and solve problems at the tested level. As a long-time teacher who's worked for years in low-income parts of LA, I can assure you that we've all had to take our work more seriously over the last 15-or-so years because we want our students to meet the standards that are tested by the CST. Having said that, though, I also agree that the CST doesn't measure critical thinking in the way that, for example, the very short-lived CLAS did. Now the state has adopted the new Common Core Standards, raising the bar on analytical and critical thinking. Assessment of those standards will have to reflect that new emphasis, which means that teachers are going to have to figure out how to make that happen. And it will probably be pretty clunky and stressful and disappointing at first, but I like to stay hopeful.
Liz H. January 12, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Ah, yes...Now I remember! For the language arts test, kids had to read a selection, make notes in some kind of graphic organizer, get together with other students to talk about their observations, and then write an essay. It was very cool for kids who were used to working in that way, not at all cool for their counterparts whose teachers were allergic to any of the whole-language philosophy that was still driving instruction and assessment back in the '90's. Geez, politics! Money, too, but those phony whole-language versus phonics and left-wing-godless-moral-relativism versus family-values debates had a huge impact on the demise of CLAS. SO we threw the baby out with the bathwater.
navigio January 12, 2013 at 07:19 PM
well, you're right that testing is an assessment tool, but I would challenge whether it assesses the role of the teacher exclusively (obviously?). Obviously the teacher plays a role--and an often very important one--but it can be so much more than that. I dont think his statement was meant to imply the testing itself improves student learning, but if you have an assessment that allows you to understand where a child is lacking and where they are exceeding then it allows you to tailor the educational experience to be most appropriate for the student. It seems clear that would be beneficial to the learning process. In addition, as Liz says below, one of the impacts of standardized testing (regardless of which type) is the increased visibility into student progress. I agree that this necessarily places some focus on the teaching process and can impact methodology. This is why its so important to have tests that are properly designed. In the end, when the goal is the test, then whats in it will be the focus of instruction. That is dangerous if the test itself is misguided; one of the reasons the lack of critical thinking skills in the CST is such a concern. In my experience, I am thankful for teachers who are understand these points and know how and when to balance things in a way that are most beneficial for the student. Virtually all the ones I've come across do so.
navigio January 12, 2013 at 07:44 PM
IMHO, the focus on the CST components, coupled with a more intense streamlining of funding has had a negative impact on some of what people consider non-core elements. Eg art, music, shop, etc. One of the ironies is that the increasing lack of those classes has caused some people who would otherwise stay in school to drop out. Another irony is that these things can be an integral part of one's education, and even have a positive impact on these other 'core' elements. I am reading a book about a couple philosophers at the moment and one of them said he learned more about life from the cabinet maker he apprenticed with than he did from all his teachers. There is a similarly interesting book called shop class for soulcraft about the values of crafts. I have done all sorts of work in my life and find that critical thinking skills are as important when building a house as when writing software or even talking to people. I understand that the focus on things like english and math are a function of the extremely disparate levels at which our populace has historically achieved these things. However, the increased focus--and associated costs--run a real risk of causing harm simply in a different way. I hope people can keep that in mind when thinking about the value of something as blunt-force as a testing methodology.
Elizabeth J. Sawyer-Cunningham January 13, 2013 at 09:08 PM
I think that Torlaksen believes that a new test more in line with the Common core Standards will measure students' abiiity to think critically. STAR does not do that, but STAR was cheaper to grade since the multiple choice part could be machine graded and the only part that had to be read were the essay portions which were scored holistically ignoring miscellaneous errors unless the impeded the reader's ability to understand what was meant. I don't know how teachers are supposed to teach to each students needs when there are 35 - 45 students in high school classrooms - the level I taught before retiring. Computer assisted instruction could help solve part of that problem, but would require that every student at every grade level had a computer to use in every classroom.
Melody Comfort January 16, 2013 at 08:54 AM
Navigio, you are a very interesting person! You bring out some very cogent points for contemplation. Thank you for your thoughts.

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