New Testing For California Schools; STAR On Way Out

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?

Sometime soon, California students will be thinking a lot more and filling in fewer bubbles when they take standardized statewide tests.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson has 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.

Shalee Cunningham, the superintendent of the Novato Unified School District, said district staff is excited about the new testing model. 

"It will be aligned with Common Core Standards, and it will assess students in an interactive manner to assess their depth of understanding subject matter,” Cunningham said.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is developing a system of valid, reliable and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11, Cunningham said. The system, which includes both summative assessments for accountability purposes and optional interim assessments for instructional use, will use computer adaptive testing technologies to the greatest extent possible.

"(It will) provide meaningful feedback and actionable data that teachers and other educators can use to help students succeed," she said.

Torlakson said he 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 or used for the Early Assessment Program.

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 moving to a new dimension, a higher dimension," said Torlakson, a former science, math and history teacher at Mt. Diablo High in Concord.

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.

"I'm very excited for what this will mean to our students," said state Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), a former English teacher.

Marin County Schools STAR Testing Results for Mathematics 2011-12

Grade Level Advanced Proficient Basic Below Basic Far Below Basic Second  52% 27% 13% 7% 2% Third 56% 25% 13% 5% 1% Fourth 60% 24% 11% 5% 1% Fifth 49% 30% 13% 6% 1% Sixth 32% 36% 20% 10% 2% Seventh 35% 34% 20% 8% 2%

Marin County Schools STAR Testing Results for English and Language Arts 2011-12

Grade Level Advanced Proficient Basic Below Basic Far Below Basic Second 45% 29% 16% 7% 3% Third 36% 34% 20% 7% 3% Fourth 63% 21% 11% 3% 1% Fifth 57% 27% 12% 3% 2% Sixth 52% 27% 15% 5% 2% Seventh 53% 28% 13% 4% 2% Eighth 53% 23% 15% 5% 3% Ninth 49% 25% 17% 5% 4% Tenth 40% 28% 18% 9% 6% Eleventh 37% 27% 20% 9% 7%

What do you think? Should the state testing system be revamped? Should we leave it alone? Should we be doing statewide testing at all? Let up know in the comments section.

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Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr January 16, 2013 at 03:45 AM
I am pleased to see that the current STAR testing shows that Marin County schools are doing a good job. I wish that the results were tabulated by school district. I believe that it is an error to modify STAR testing to include "critical thinking" as critical thinking is extremely subjective. Critical thinking testing is a good predictor of higher level academic success, but for K-12 "bubble" testing is the best objective test of academic success.


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