CST results back in a jiffy

Two-week turnaround, as Brown called for

Next year, school districts will receive the students’ results on state standardized tests in two weeks, not two months – or longer.

Gov. Jerry Brown had called for the quicker turnaround in his State of the State address, and on Wednesday, the State Board of Education approved amendments to the contract with the test administrator, Educational Testing Service, to make that possible.

By getting scores back during the school year, instead of during the summer, districts will be better able to make decisions on summer school attendance and placement for courses in the fall. Teachers will be able to identify gaps in student knowledge and, with time left, address them, suggested Susan Swann, executive director of ETS’s K-12 Assessments in California.

Test results have been delayed until now because of the methodology ETS used in evaluating new questions that it introduced in the tests. For 2013, ETS will substitute tests from previous years instead of including new questions, which won’t require a lengthy post-exam vetting process. Another method is to accumulate a big bank of  previously vetted test questions, which the SMARTER Balanced state consortium preparing the assessment for Common Core standards will use.

What happens after 2013 is up in the air. ETS’s contract runs out next year, creating at least a one-year gap before states are scheduled to begin offering the new Common Core assessments. ETS will likely get its contract extended.

State Board President Michael Kirst and Executive Director Sue Burr negotiated the contract changes. Among them, ETS will resume two actions designed to bolster the security of the state’s standardized tests that had been suspended a few years ago to save money. ETS will do 135 random security audits to see if districts are complying with protocols in administering the tests. It will also do an electronic analysis of test results to identify instances where batches of answers  to questions have been  altered. The state could then follow up with an inquiry.

Investigations into allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., have heightened the need for more vigilance. The suspension of monitoring by ETS had created the possibility that cheating could go undetected.


  1. About time! Let’s hope districts actually get the results analyzed, discussed and out to the stakeholder groups in as timely a manner.

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  2. Sue: While getting the results faster is nice, please note the price — no new items on the test. Basically STAR has been recycling items since last year because the state cut funding for STAR maintenance. So every year that passes the test is more and more compromised as more items are reused more often.
    This may work for a limited time if one expects STAR to die next year. As we do. But Mike Kirst said at some point that if we don’t like the consortia tests we can back off at any time. Guess what — it is getting less possible to back off when STAR is not maintained and is falling apart.
    There is no free lunch.

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  3. “This may work for a limited time if one expects STAR to die next year.”
    There are  a million ways to de-value annual tests of  public school students’ ability in reading and math: not adding new items to the STAR test is a one of them. This should be recognized as yet another assault on academic accountability for the education of  kids in public school grades 2-11 and it is the unconscionable goal of  the California Teachers Association (CTA.) CTA wants to kill off all testing to prevent test scores from being used  to evaluate teachers’ performance in controversial value-added” experiments that have been tried in Los Angeles and are now law in New York State.
    Yesterday the Los Angeles Times listed the the California Teachers’ union as the biggest lobbyist of any group spending money among our state legislators last year, weighing in at $6.5  million — more than Big Oil, more than Health and Hospitals,  more than Manufacturers, more than ATT, more than the California  Chamber of Commerce.
    Yearly publication of STAR test results — based on a valid test — is the ONLY WAY parents and communities can know how their their children are progressing academically in relation to State  academic standards and how their schools stand in relation to other similar schools around the state in the core subjects of literacy and math. Test integrity should be maintained, as should the Academic Performance Index which is based on STAR test results and is made public annually.
    I hope Governor Brown will pay attention to this attempted erosion of academic accountability for the education of public school students and will protect the public’s interest in knowing what its children are learning in our schools.

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  4. Oops – mea culpa – I missed the recycling part! I was dealing with another “end run” at our local school, so didn’t read as carefully as I ought to.
    I just thought it great that schools might get the results earlier so that they would use them! Is there a way of getting valid tests- and the scores back in a timely manner?
    Thank you both!

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    • Posted on behalf of Doug McRae, retired test publisher from Monterey:

      Response to Sue Moore: Yes, there is a way to maintain valid tests and get the scores back in a timely manner. There are several ways to get the necessary statistics to do the “equating” adjustments before tests are administered in whole – the way ETS proposed is to use intact previous test forms but another way is to use the most recent item bank statistics, including item tryout data for new items that have never been included in previous live administrations.

      The second way sacrifices some accuracy in the psychometric adjustments needed for revised test forms, but it maintains better test security. The way ETS proposed has more accuracy for the adjustments but compromises test security. So, the policy trade-off is accuracy in the so-called equating process vs test security considerations. But, the better test security method also requires a steady diet of new items to keep the item-bank sufficiently full over time. This is where dollar costs come into the discussion. By using the intact previous test form method rather than a bunch of new items, one can suspend new item development and field testing for a while, and save significant dollars. These dollars can then be used for the add-ons in the contract amendments [revising blueprints, computer-based testing pilot, paperless aggregate reporting pilot, re-instating test security audits and erasure analyses, and substituting early equating for late equating to improve the availability of individual student test results].

      Ze’ev is right that suspending new item development and field testing compromises the STAR program – if indeed STAR is replaced by a new testing system in 2015 then compromising the item bank during the last several years of STAR is a reasonable thing to consider. But, if the new testing system does not arrive by 2015 [or if it does arrive but CA does not have the resources to implement it], then STAR is effectively compromised for continued valid use beyond 2014. Finally, whether or not the ETS contract amendments are a good financial deal for CA taxpayers depends on whether the savings from suspending new item development and field testing are equal to the new costs for the five add-ons listed above. Several of the add-ons should not cost CA anything, several are legitimate additional costs. The dollar estimates for the cost savings and the dollar estimates for the add-ons were not included in the ETS proposal material provided to the SBE and were not discussed by the SBE last week, so we do not know whether the ETS contract amendment was a good deal (or not) for CA taxpayers.

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  5. Trust CDE to put a positive spin on any disaster in the making — it seems very good at that.

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