This school year marks the last year that the STAR test will be taken by California’s students. Don’t worry, though. This doesn’t mean standardized testing is gone for good.
Following an interim year in the 2013-2014 school year with no standardized testing, public school students in 45 states will be assessed based on new Common Core State Standards in the spring of 2015.
“There was pushback because the standards were really particular, and we lost sight of the big picture,” English department head Whitney Grummon explains. “The Common Core is meant to provide a better overall education than the STAR test.”
The CCSS standards eliminate the need for different standards for each state. Instead, states will be given the option of two different tests for one set of standards. States can choose between the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests; California, along with 25 other states, will be adopting the SBAC.
These new tests are meant to “move away from bubbling in multiple-choice test items and seek to better assess deeper levels of student understanding,” says Edmund Gross, CUSD’s curriculum and instruction director.
Instead of filling in bubbles endlessly, students will be taking a test that emphasizes the use of technology like computers and their ability to solve real-world problems.
A portion of the math exam will look like the Graduate Record Exam used when students apply to graduate school, explains math teacher Juan Gomez, who worked over the past year as a focus group panelist for the California Department of Education.
“[The test] is computer adaptive, so if the computer sees you get a question right, it will give you progressively tougher questions…so not every student will take the same number of questions,” he says.
The focus of the test is changing along with its format.
According to Gross, more importance will be placed on explaining one’s answer to a math question instead of the answer itself.
Unlike with STAR, students won’t be tested annually either.
“For math, you’ll learn math year one, year two and year three,” Gomez adds. “Everyone will take the same math test.”
While the computer adaptive test format provides for quick scoring, the issue of quickly grading someone’s writing has come into question.
“They are talking about using an algorithm to process someone’s writing,” Gomez explains. “I’ve heard people at the state level say the algorithms grade up to the 96th percentile of accuracy. But when you have a million plus students in California, that four percent is a lot of students.”
The reliance on computer technology, while not problematic for Carmel High, might pose issues elsewhere.
“We certainly have more [computers] than most schools do, so I don’t know how other schools are going to manage that,” Grummon comments.
In preparation for the implementation of the full test in 2015, several teachers at CHS were slated to run pilot programs of the new test. However, the test date was moved to May 29—during Carmel High’s finals week—practically eliminating the possibility of running full scale pilot programs this year at CHS.
Despite the possible obstacles, hopes are high for the future of the new standards for testing.
“This test will take the place of the CAHSEE, the SAT and the ACT,” Gomez remarks. “It will alter the sequencing of our courses. You might have concepts taught in AP Stats now move down as low as seventh grade.”
The effects of these changes won’t be fully understood until the test goes into effect two years from now.
“People are often uncertain about change,” Gomez says. “They feel like there is something out there that is going to get them, but I think all the changes will be positive.”