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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 morning, 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? Should the state testing system be revamped? Should we leave it alone? Should we be doing statewide testing at all? Tell us in comments.

Jessica Orlandi January 09, 2013 at 12:50 AM
I think STAR testing really robs our children of a well rounded education. If all the teachers can do is stuff their heads with information to memorize for tests, are they REALLY learning? It's ridiculous and needs to change. I'm sure it's very hard on the teachers, too!
Jim C January 09, 2013 at 01:18 AM
While I applaud the effort to make critical thinking a part of the tests, why am I suspicious that this is really aimed at making it easier for people who can't do basic math or speak/write proper english?
M.Legison January 09, 2013 at 01:49 AM
That is exactly right, Jim C. Torlakson was elected through the large contributions put out by the CTA so they could have another lap dog in state administration. He has been working on instituting this dumbed down testing for over a year. It is, of course, to make the teachers appear to be doing a better job. Another example of how the state is increasingly controlled by the unions.
Louis Educe January 09, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Here is a link to sample test items for the new "Smarter Balanced" assessments geared toward the Common Core Standards http://www.smarterbalanced.org/sample-items-and-performance-tasks/ the links are toward the bottom of the page - give it a try - not as "dumbed down" as some think... These computerized tests are planned to be "adaptive" so that if a student gets an answer correct the next question is more challenging and less if the miss one. Many of these questions are "open ended" not multiple choice so students will need to type in their answers. As with any state testing done in school classroom instruction will need to change and "teaching to the test" will take on a whole new look - but maybe the skills needed to do well on this type of test will be able to better transfer into useful skills rather than just drawing pretty little bubbles...
Mark Paxson January 09, 2013 at 04:15 AM
Louis, Louis, Louis ... you're not supporting the narrative. Who could possibly believe that open-ended questions that actually require students to think rather than just memorizing information and being able to spit it back out like a computer might be a better measure and actually more difficult? (By the way, that's a sarcastic jibe really meant for the commenter just above you.)
M.Legison January 09, 2013 at 04:58 AM
Louis, no argument on the concept but Torlakson has nothing to do with your example. This is not to say much of it won't be adapted--it will. It is not to say that the national standards are not an overall improvement--they are. Torlakson, however, has made it clear that the national standard will be modified in California, and CTA has been lobbying for lower thresholds.
Jason January 09, 2013 at 05:00 AM
"Open ended" is code for "there are no wrong answers," aka, everyone gets a trophy. As other posters have mentioned, the tests are created to create a false perception that the children are smarter and therefore the teachers more effective.
Gaia Renee Vacek January 09, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Finally, critical thinking skills in the schools! Let's face it. College and career is not about memorization and black and white answers. Critical thinking skills and problem solving are. STAR testing is more dumbed down than you think. Open ended questions allow for critical thinking. These skills are crucial if we are to stay competitive in the global market. Such testing also requires students to think for themselves - probably not something that ultra conservatives desire. Life is moving forward - or schools have to as well.
Dan Schmitt January 09, 2013 at 03:06 PM
The time has come for a meaningful standardized test that evaluates where all our nation's students stack up. I'm all for the Common Core Standards. Far too long, each state has had the responsibility of writing it's own test. There's no way to compare kids in California with kids in Texas, for example, because each state uses different measurements. I am concerned, however, with the possibility that the test writers will get carried away with the critical thinking and rigor expected of our kids on the Common Core Standards Exam. In today's Bee, there's an article on the issue. In the article, there was a "possible language arts activity" for 6th graders: "trace the line of argument in Winston Churchill's 'Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat' address to Parliament and evaluate his specific claims and opinions in the text, distinguishing which claims are supported by facts, reasons and evidence, and which ones are not." 6th GRADE! They've got to be kidding!
Louis Educe January 09, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Jason - your "open ended" response to my comment is incorrect.. the tests will have right and wrong answers what the open ended part implies is the path to the correct answer. If you would look at some of the math examples in the link you will see that they require 2-3 different types of math operations and can be done in a number of different ways. but ultimately there are correct answers. by the way Bill, I love Khan academy and tell students (and my own kids) to view it and see other ways to explain and work out problems other than just the one shown in class or the text book. Isn't that what we really want our kids to learn is to find the best way for them to reach the correct answer in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their own way of thinking. I know for myself that in Geometry I could see in my head the relationships and patterns needed to solve many of the problems and would use my own way to get to the correct answer, but back then it was one way (the teachers) or no way so I did not get the grades in math I knew I deserved and so shut down for awhile in school.
Jacqui Johnson January 09, 2013 at 03:21 PM
STAR and teaching to the test has created a generation of students who do not know how to problem-solve. Allowing teachers to focus more on skills like problem-solving will allow students to be more successful later. Isn't that the goal of K-12 education? To allow all students an opportunity at a successful career of their choosing? Also, Adaptive testing will allow teachers to see where each student actually is in their understanding, instead of just whether they know the one question or not. Currently, a students understanding of a concept in, lets say a science CST, is only tested by one or two questions. If they don't know those two, does that mean they know nothing? How are teachers to use that information to adjust teaching the next year?
Ken Simons January 09, 2013 at 04:06 PM
I would support adaptive testing over memorization testing. I support a system that raises the bar and does not lower the bar. I believe the current measure is archaic and puts each student in a box that has no relation to capabilities. I do not know enough about this system specifically to generate total support, but it sounds like it is going in the right direction. The fact that someone out there is attempting to improve the system would be heart warming. Yes, there are outside political influences, and that is how we got the system we use today. Watch this carefully. Try not to let your political views influence the right decision. Do your homework. Be sure to make your views known to those who influence the process. Do not keep checking "D" for none of the above.
EGUSD watcher January 09, 2013 at 04:11 PM
The shift to Commin Core Standards is a good thing and is not a dumbing down of what is expected. Teachers have been asking for more focus standards for years. As it is there is no way to teach all of California's standards in one year. It isn't about mastery. It's about exposure. We've been fighting for mastery for years. No one has pointed fingers at the testing companies who end up influencing curriculum publishers which then dictates what districts tell their teachers to teach. It ultimately isn't about doing what is best for kids. It's about what is best for the industries that suck money from all schools through State adoptions.
Robert Livesay January 09, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Benicia Patch will not respond to questions about JB Davis disappearance. What is up Benicia Patch. Just tell us if he still works there. That should not be so difficult.
Bill. Miller January 09, 2013 at 04:21 PM
'CT or Star' is false alternative: Get rid of Star. Get rid of teachers unions. Implement Khan Academy. Get rid of homework(allow reading or lecture only) Writing every day. Reading: one hour at school, one hour at home. One stand-up presentation per student each month. Next
Jim C January 09, 2013 at 05:19 PM
This comment is either pretty funny or a great example of what I fear.
Salina Welsh January 09, 2013 at 07:22 PM
The sample test is heading to the right direction. It has adapted to the thinking skill of the children in this generation. It is NOT easier than the current STAR test. Students still need the basic grade level knowledge to pass the test and solve these problems. They still have to memorize the same amount of material as they would in the STAR test in order to get a good score in this new test. The new test speaks the same language as our children this generation where as the STAR test sounds like Latin or Greek to them. Surely it will raise the test score because the children understand the test not because the test is easier or the standard is lower. In the past with STAR test, the children have all the knowledge that they've learned but the test did not result that. It's like having high school freshmen use an old manual typewriter to write their 1000 words essay. They can't, not because they don't know how to write. The tools have been modernized and so should the common core test and this is exactly what they are doing, bring the test up to date.
Renee C. January 09, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Odd, Martin Ricard's departure from Patch was similarly clouded in mystery.
Angela Bartlett January 09, 2013 at 08:52 PM
I teach at a community college and believe that a shift towards emphasizing critical thinking skills is an excellent move. As it stands, the K-12 curriculum is woefully out of synch with college curriculum. There are lots of reasons students aren't prepared for college, but I think improved continuity would help address the problem. Of course, it all depends on whether or not this program is implemented effectively.
Frank Geefay January 09, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I believe that there is a place for both memorizing facts and critical thinking. You need both to be successful as a university student and later in life. I feel that memorization has been overemphasis in public schools. There needs to be more balance especially at the lower grades. A state test that reflects a certain degree of critical thinking will force schools to better balance their curriculum to that end. Critical thinking ultimately leads to better creative thinking, something this country will need to compete in the global economy of the future. I like the idea of adaptive testing. More difficult to cheat and requires students to use more of their reasoning skills. It can also be used as an analytical tool to determine a student's learning strengths and weaknesses.
Cecelia January 09, 2013 at 09:07 PM
Glad to see the STAR test on its way out. Frustrated though, that the new test is not a national test. In other states we've lived in, we got to see how our kids were doing compared to the rest of the NATION. Not so here in California. I'm VERY suspicious that the news would be BAD.
Robert Livesay January 09, 2013 at 09:37 PM
I do believe others are also interested in what happened to JB Davis. Benicia Patch refuses to respond. So my answer to that is just quit reading and commenting on Benicia Patch. I do not believe in censorship but I do believe in responding to a request. Just what is up Benicia Patch?
jp casserly January 09, 2013 at 10:56 PM
The smart and motivated students will be perform best is my prediction.
Gail Ann January 10, 2013 at 08:38 AM
CALIFORNIA LAW ALLOWS PARENTS TO LEGALLY EXCUSE THEIR CHILDREN FROM THE STAR TESTING GIVEN EVERY SPRING FOR GRADES 2ND THROUGH 11TH! CALL THE CA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION S.T.A.R OFFICE AT 916-445-8765 AND ASK THEM IF YOU CAN LEGALLY OPT-OUT OF THE STAR TESTING! THEY WILL SAY YES! THEY WILL TELL YOU THAT ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS WRITE A LETTER TO THE PRINCIPAL STATING THAT YOU WANT TO OPT YOUR CHILD OUT OF STAR TESTING!!! SIMPLE AT THAT!! SPREAD THE WORD!!!!!!! SEE http://www.pencilsdown.org/california.html AND http://www.pencilsdown.org/kit/california.pdf FOR MORE INFO!
Gail Ann January 10, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Hey, see my post below, it may help you...
Louis Educe January 10, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Gail Ann, while you are correct on the parent opt out right please make sure and tell parents to ask the school/district what the STAR scores are used for with in the disrtict/school/grage-level. if the child is in the middle grades (7th and 8th are most important) these scores are used to make placement choices for high school courses. Many HS counselors will NOT look very closely at grades (A,Bs) because of the fear of grade inflation - unless you can make sure you child also have some non-biased, standardized (normed) test data their placement choices might be limited. If your child is a high performer you can have them start taking the PSAT in 8th grade (but they will be compared to 10th grade standards). At the lower grade levels the CST data is used to also make placement choices into intervention as well as higher level instructional clusters. Be well aware of the implications of withdrawing your child from the testing before you just exercise you right to "make a point"
navigio January 10, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Not only that, but CST participation rate is a metric for AYP, so a school that falls below the 95% threshold will not make AYP (not that that matters anymore, nor that it ever mattered for non-title1 schools like SM). I would expect ongoing district assessments are used more than CSTs for placement for intervention given that there are more of them and they are more closely aligned with what is going on the classroom. If its true that schools are using CST results for individual intervention decisions, then I think parents should know that (and realize its probably a bad idea). Your school site council should have info on that since its job is to monitor things like that. In any case, anyone who wants to opt out should also ask their child. They should have a say in the matter.
M Feldman January 12, 2013 at 07:46 AM
Its an interesting idea. Now, though,who is going to pay for all the computers needed for these tests? To make the test fair, each student will have to take them at the same time. Where will the schools put them? Who will pay for IT staff to make sure they are operating properly? Who will pay the insurance for the computers, and for the extra electricity needed at each school site? Where are the facts behind the ability to implement this new plan? This plan needs more details explained.

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