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?

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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