Why are STAR, CST and NAEP important?
Let’s sort out all the acronyms concerning testing and accountability and what it all means.
STAR Tests and CSTs
California’s testing and accountability program is called STAR or Standardized Testing and Reporting program. The main feature of this program is the California Standards Tests or CSTs, which are administered every spring with the results reported in August. These tests are based on the state standards in each tested academic area which were adopted by the State Board of Education in the late 1990s. Tests are administered to all students in grades 2-11 in the following subjects:
English-Language Arts: Grades 2-11 (Grade level ELA test)
Mathematics: Grades 2-6 (Grade level math test)
Grades 7-11: (Course appropriate math test, i.e. Algebra I, Geometry, etc)
Science: Grades 5, 8, 10 (life science in Grade 10)
Grades 9-11: (course appropriate science test, i.e. Biology, Chemistry)
History/Social Studies: Grades 8-11 (grades 6-8 covered in Grade 8, US History in Grade 11, World History in Grade 9/10 as taken)
Every student taking a test is rated as Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic or Far Below Basic, and the test results are reported by mail to the student’s parents. The combined data can be viewed at the school, district, county and state levels and can be disaggregated by ethnicity, economic status, disability status, language status and other ways.
The STAR program also has special tests given to English Learners and students with disabilities that prevent them from taking the regular test.
National and International Tests
Commonly known as the nation’s report card, the main national testing scheme is known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
NAEP is a test given annually in 4th and 8th grade in English Language Arts and Mathematics and in Science about every five years. It is not given to all students or in all schools. Schools and students are selected on a random basis so results are only available at the state level. Results are not available for individual students, schools, districts, counties or regions. Further, it is a matrix test so that each student takes only part of the total test and the results of many students are combined to obtain state results.
There are no published standards upon which NAEP is based and it is generally claimed by education observers that its standards for Advanced, Proficient, etc. are “aspirational” or that they are based on a view of what should be, not what is actually taught in schools nationwide.
Many state testing programs such as STAR get different results on ELA and Math than the state’s NAEP results. They are two separate and distinct assessment systems. Education authorities warn that there are pitfalls in comparing states’ NAEP scores, but it’s commonly done anyway.
There are several international testing programs which are administered every few years. These are mainly the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). They test groups of students in a variety of nations and rank the results. These tests usually focus on science and math. Like NAEP they are given to selected students in selected schools in selected states. Some observers give them great significance and weight while others claim that the tests and the testing regime cause skewed results. They may tell us as much about what is being taught rather than how well it is being taught.
Bob Nichols is education manager of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.