Superintendents shed light on STAR test

By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The STAR test results are out, and parents should be receiving their children’s scores. But what do the tests really measure, and do they show how students are doing? The Journal asked Dave Horsey, superintendent of the Placer Union High School District, and Michele Schuetz, superintendent of the Auburn Union School District, for some answers. Q: What does the STAR test measure? Horsey: It’s measuring the California state standards in the core subjects of English, math, social science and science. So those are going to include things like U.S. history, and world history, and chemistry and biology. Q: Why is it necessary? H: I think what is necessary is multiple measurements if you will, and this is just one of those. There are a variety of these assessments. You have got to take all of those when you are trying to figure out how your student is doing. And then you need to combine that with graduation rates, drop-out rates, you need to combine that with the number of students who complete the A to G requirements for a four-year college. Q: Can you fairly compare the results of a specific grade level to the results of that same grade level the next year? H: I’m going to say, ‘No,’ but I want to kind of qualify that. What you really need to do is you need to be able to track a cohort of students. So, I want to take my ninth-graders and look at their scores and then as 10th-graders, how did they score? Schuetz: What you can do when you are comparing class to class is say, ‘Is there a consistency over a year or so?’ You see is there a grade level, maybe they are doing really well. Or is there an area where they aren’t doing well, where the district isn’t doing well? We look at patterns of what we may need to do differently instructionally for one. And remember this is just a glimpse of a student at that time. We look at holes that we might have in curriculum. Do we need to beef up curriculum in one area? Q: Do you think this test is a good measure of aptitude and do you think students take it seriously? Why or why not? H: It’s not a measure of aptitude like an IQ test. Unlike the (high school exit) exam. There is an incentive there: they have to pass (the exit exam) to get a high school diploma. For this, students don’t have to pass it. There is no grade tied to it. So yes, it’s difficult over seven days of testing to say, ‘Keep your focus and do your best.’ I want to say for the most part kids take it seriously. They see it has an impact on the whole school climate and instruction. S: I think that our students are doing very, very well, and they have very good scores. I don’t think it completely accurately measures all students and where they are. It doesn’t give us the complete picture we need to assess all students. It’s just one tool we need. Q: How does this affect an individual student and his or her family? H: The state uses this as a tool to rank schools, and that then community-wise helps you with your real estate property and all that, because people want to go where there are good schools. We are fortunate in Placer County. We are in better shape than most. We do have some of the state’s higher testing scores. So how does that affect the community? I would say it’s got an impact on real estate values, and home values and the community that you live in. S: It can be nerve wracking taking a test. Imagine a second-grader sitting down and taking assessments. So, we try to get in some good test taking techniques. If anything, if they do well it’s a time for celebration, and we try to celebrate our successes … in the schools. If they struggle, that is something a parent may want to look at. Is it a test taking issue or does my child need more support? So, it can be used somewhat for information. Reach Bridget Jones at ----------------------------------------------------- A sampling of how local school districts did on the 2011 STAR tests (scores in proficient and advanced categories of English-language arts and mathematics) Auburn Union School District: English-language arts: 58.1 percent Mathematics: 59.9 percent Placer Union High School District: English-language arts: 66.7 percent Mathematics: 37 percent Ackerman Charter District: English-language arts: 68.2 percent Mathematics: 67.8 percent Alta-Dutch Flat School District: English-language arts: 67.5 percent Mathematics: 57.3 percent Colfax Elementary School District: English-language arts: 52.9 percent Mathematics: 60.9 percent Foresthill Union School District: English-language arts: 56.6 percent Mathematics: 63.7 percent Loomis Union School District: English-language arts: 78.4 percent Mathematics: 78.5 percent Newcastle Elementary School District: English-language arts: 73.1 percent Mathematics: 67.7 percent Placer Hills Union School District: English-language arts: 71.9 percent Mathematics: 63.5 percent