Yes, you can! Say no to STAR testing

In the next month or so, our kids who attend our public schools will be facing an annual rite of spring: several days of sitting down to take STAR tests.

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.

8 thoughts on “Yes, you can! Say no to STAR testing

  1. Soccer mom- Don’t even get me started on these tests. I once had a second grader come home with a 54 page packet to prepare for this test, it was crazy! At our school, if you are not in GATE you are not allowed to take certain electives. While I’m not saying my son has a genius IQ, he should, with two (going on three) quarters of straight A’s be eligible to take a GATE elective.These teachers “teach” to the test at every turn and it really takes away from the teachable moments.

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  2. We don’t have a problem at my kid’s school with STAR testing. My kid gets about 1 page of STAR homework each day, and we work on it together. It’s very low-key. I don’t think the testing is bad necessarily; it can be a useful tool (for parents, too), it’s just that just about everyone (including parents) buy into the hype.I don’t particularly care for the way that they average the scores. Last year my child was in the high ‘proficient’ range in math. When I looked at the content areas, he was all over the place He scored 97%tile in fractions, multiplication, division and very high in other areas of math. He also scored much lower in other areas of math. Because they average the score, he was deemed ‘proficient,’ even though he lacked proficiency in some areas.That’s my big gripe about it.

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  3. No Child Left Behind has a clever, feel-good name, but the alternative press exposed it and its related testing apparatus from the gitgo as a money-making operation for Dubya’s corporate cronies. It’s a sham and a charade that’s been foisted on students, parents and school systems for the benefit of the few and to the detriment of the many, when many educational needs still remain unmet.

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  4. I’m a science teacher in San Jose, CA and I’d have to say that another gripe I have about the STAR tests (from the instructor’s perspective) is that, though it is supposed to be aligned with state standards, the standards themselves for science are actually very, very vague. For example, from the high school biology standard:
    “Students know how feedback loops in the nervous and endocrine systems regulate conditions in the body.”
    The accompanying question from a released STAR question is:
    “Which of these secretes a hormone that
    regulates the rate of metabolism of the body?
    A spleen
    B cerebrum
    C thyroid
    D kidney”

    What they really want is for kids to memorize a certain set of facts, for which they aren’t even completely transparent about. I could teach the concept of feedback loops all day, but if they didn’t memorize that so-and-so organ secretes so-and-so hormone, then they obviously didn’t learn this standard. Argghh!

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  5. We opted out for all of the reasons you discussed. However, our school is trying to punish us by not allowing us to re-enroll! I should mention that we are homeschoolers with a Charter School, and my child is only elementary level! Amazing how politics over-rule the best interest of our children…It is sickening!!

    After seeing sample questions, I was just angry to see all of the trick questions and time that gets wasted trying to teach the kids HOW to take the test. Please explain to me how our kids learn reading comprehension by being told not to read the passage, just find the answers…UGG!!!
    The whole thing is a CROCK!

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  6. STAR testing also doesn't test what a child knows. Mine has a difficult time focusing, so he does horribly on tests, despite the fact that he has very good skills in language arts. The tests simply cause him to panic, and he has a tough time answering any of the questions. Forget about math.

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  7. I am so glad that I found this site! My son does well in all areas but math. He took the language section of the testing on monday and tuesday but tomorrow and thursday are the math portions. He is still awake, unable to go to sleep because of thinking about the math portion of the test and he “knows he is going to bomb it anyway” and he has a stomach ache!! I don't think a 7th grader needs this much stress. This lesson per day in math that our children do is outrageous. They need to spend several days per lesson for the kids to learn the information but if the child does not “get it” oh well, they have to move on so too bad. What kind of teaching system is that? Oh yes, it the the good old California standards.

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  8. What happens with your kids when you opt out? I heard from another parent that the kids have to sit in the office if they opt out. I have wanted to opt my son out but don't want him stuck in the front office.

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