Although wary of STAR testing, I couldn’t help but get a small kick from the API score of my son’s WC school

It’s that wicked competitive streak in me.

Patricia Wool, the superintendent for the Walnut Creek School District, e-mailed to parents API scores released last week by the California Department of Education.

And, of course, I noticed that my son’s school scored the highest of all elementaries in the Walnut Creek district on the API tests.

As Wool explains, “the report summarizes the results from spring 2008 STAR testing and becomes the baseline against which to compare the 2009 Growth API which will be released in September. API scores range from 200-1000, and an excellent school’s target is 800. I’m pleased to report that Walnut Creek District is doing exceptionally well. “

Here are the results:
Walnut Creek district overall: 903
Buena Vista Elementary: 887
Indian Valley Elementary: 913
Murwood Elementary: 892
Parkmead Elementary: 927
Walnut Heights Elementary: 925
Walnut Creek Intermediate: 900

Okay, so our Walnut Creek district schools are a bit behind some of those famously high-scoring Orinda school district elementaries, according to the Department of Education.

Like Sleepy Hollow, whose kids nabbed a 974, or Del Rey, at 957. And, yeah, we’re lagging a bit behind the Moraga district, which scored a 943 overall, and Lafayette, which, district-wide, scored 914.

Some Mt. Diablo Unified district schools in Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill also scored over 900: Valle Verde (903); Walnut Acres (924); and Sequoia Elementary (923). Foothill Middle School scored a respectable 889.

As for Walnut Creek high Schools: Northgate earned a respectable 835, and Las Lomas, 844.

But wait! I have raised questions about STAR testing in a previous post. I asked: “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?”

My wariness about STAR and SAT tests might have to do with the fact that I was never that great at standardized tests. Oh, I would do respectably, enough in my day to earn me acceptance to good colleges. But I was nowhere near National Merit level, and, in my petty competitive way, I envied those who were.

I know, I know. I’m presenting mixed messages about my position on these standardized tests, including these STAR tests. Okay, I’m conflicted. I have decried how teachers feel like they have to “teach to the tests,” and that it seems that so much class time is taken up preparing kids, even second graders, on how to fill in those multiple-choice “bubble” sheets. I wonder how much this has to do with real learning.

Then there are those, including my husband, who thinks standardized testing is a good thing—to make sure the schools and teachers are performing adequately. And here I am, writing about the positive API scores for my son’s school and my community’s school district.

But I have to ask myself: Does the good test score my son’s school received mean it is doing a good job teaching him and other kids? Maybe it does. Then again, maybe it’s just a number.

Not to knock my friendly neighborhood realtors, but I’m sure there are some who are happy about these scores.

11 thoughts on “Although wary of STAR testing, I couldn’t help but get a small kick from the API score of my son’s WC school

  1. How about we relate these test scores to winning at sports? Who cares how they score, as long as they are having fun and are learning something, right? According to many of your readers, being mediocre is a-ok, so kids, aim low for your parents, don't worry, just remember to smile, have lots of fun, and tell 'em you're improving through your mistakes.


  2. Test scores are only one indicator of a school's or student's actual success. My son is LD, and performed pretty poorly on standardized tests. He has difficulty with the mechanics of language and mathematics. He does, however, possess superior higher-order thinking skills. In high school, he struggled because there was a great emphasis on the mechanics and detail. He got a brand-new, spiffy 504 Accommodation Plan in his senior year so he could transfer his Plan to college. Because most of his coursework required critical thinking vs. detail-oriented skills, he didn't even use his 504 Plan, and he got all A's except for one B, I think. He's a little creative and started a newsletter for his employer (he has a part-time job).

    I on the other hand am just the opposite. I have always performed well on standardized tests (good test-taker!), but don't have the critical-thinking skills that my son possesses.

    Standardized tests are a useful tool, but they only tell part of the story.


  3. STAR test schools are most closely related to the socio-economic status of the parents. Richer parent, higher scores. Poorer parents, lower scores. As proof, compare the scores of Northgate HS in WC and Mt. Diablo HS in Concord. They are both in the MDUSD. If you swapped out all of the teachers and admin between Northgate and Mt. Diablo, you'd still end up with the same scores. The scores don't reflect the “quality” of the teachers or district. They reflect the “quality” of the students.


  4. Our students go to a high school with a high number of ESL students, so this affects the schools API. However our students have always tested well and their sub group is not far behind Northgate. So because the overall API is low at his school should be reason to move him? No, he loves his school, his friends and he is doing very well. His older brother graduated from the same school and is in College, successfully.

    I don't like the scores because they do not tell the entire picture. My College student decided in 10th grade to draw Christmas tress instead of taking the State tests seriously. He is a GATE student and scored in the 3rd percentile, he just did not care. But he did care once we again explained how this hurt his school and community. Next year all his scores were very high.

    So these tests to me are a huge waste of our taxpayer money. Students are individuals and these scores are causing segregation among communities.

    Because we kept our students at their local high school we have been put down, critisized and even ignored socially. There is such an inequity among districts and sadly we faced the ugliness of elitism. But we feel strongly that we have only helped our children, they are caring, tolerant and not afraid of diversity students. They are successful because they are supported and know the value of education. It is up to the student to be successful, the school, district or genetic make up of the school are not the reason.


  5. “His older brother graduated from the same school and is in College, successfully.”

    And which “College” is this if I may be so presumptious to ask? Is it Stanford, Cal, or is it Chico state, DVC? Not that there's anything wrong with that.


  6. Oh this high school in Concord has/and currently has students accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Pepperdine, Santa Barbara,Davis, and many UC and Cal State campusus and private Colleges.

    What is important is what the student does to succeed. When you are in College, high school is just a memory.


  7. Anon. 11:42pm:

    I will assume your post is a shot at my earlier post regarding youth sports.

    If so, you either didn't understand what I wrote, or I did a poor job of explaining myself. To compare a 10 year old's athletic performance to STAR testing is assinine.

    I'm aware of exactly ONE major leaguer to come out of the youth baseball league I have been involved with, and the league has a history of approx. 50 years. The overwhelming majority of youth, regardless of how talented athletically their parents think they are, will never play at the college level, let alone the professional level.

    However, education is something that is available to everybody, regardless of whether they can run a 4.3 40, or throw a baseball 90 miles an hour, or dunk a basketball by age 14.

    Not every student is cut out for college, but every student can get an education and training. A plumber can get licensed, certified, etc. and be the best plumber in the area. Take advantage of the education that is available, whether it is at Harvard, Stanford, Chico St., DVC, or trade school.

    I suspect it's attitudes you what you portray in your post that is a major factor in so many youth quitting organized team sports at age 12, give or take a year.

    One of my children was in a tee-ball league at age 5. No score was kept, everyone batted each inning, and everyone played. At the end of the game, at least half the parents had kept score and were excited because our team “won”. Absolutely ridiculous.

    As for STAR testing, I believe it's something of a joke. Way too many students don't treat it seriously, the teachers hate it, and as Crazy posted, the realtors love it. I think the true indicator, as someone else posted, is economic status. And the parents. Too many parents don't take their children's education seriously. But they can probably tell you what their 5 year old's batting average is.


  8. The best part about being in a lower-performing school is that if your children are high performers, they have far better options for colleges. It's easier to be the top 2% of a lower-performing school than a very high performing school. If you're in the top 2%-4%, you get your choice of colleges. I know quite a few people who have gotten into top-notch schools this way.


  9. “The scores don't reflect the “quality” of the teachers or district. They reflect the “quality” of the students.”

    Bingo. Demographics. But we can keep pretendng it's not.


  10. So it just must eat at the WCSD that a perfect SAT score came from a girl at Northgate. Isn't that what all these parents are hoping API scores turn into – high SATs.


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