Standardized Testing Gets a Bad Rap

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MCT

Reese Levine, Staff Writer

Each year in late April schools adjust their schedules, and students file into classrooms to sit through California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) tests. These tests are supposed to show how well students at each school understand the state’s academic content standards. The results from the tests are used by the state to evaluate schools’ performance and decide the funding each should receive.

Though the STAR test is not the best way to test a student’s analytical and creative skills, it is the most practical and cost-efficient way to get an idea of how well a school’s students have mastered the academic standards.

The debate over the usefulness and effectiveness of standardized tests has gone on for a long time. Educators everywhere have lamented the fact that these tests do not allow the student to express their creativity and problem solving skills, things that do need to be stressed more in today’s increasingly programmed environment.

However, these educators are missing the point of things like the STAR test. They are not supposed to showcase the analytical skills of students, but rather their mastery of state academic standards. For the STAR program, state officials are looking to see if students are meeting English-language arts, mathematics, science, and history-social science standards, all of which are capable of being tested through standardized tests.

There are plenty of other tests that evaluate problem-solving skills; the STAR test is just not the place to do it. Instead, the STAR test should continue to function as it was meant to and give state officials an idea of how students are performing at various schools.

Another argument put forward is that teachers will end up “teaching to the test” and taking time away from teaching other skills. However, at least in this reporter’s experience, teachers spend at most two or three days preparing students for the STAR test. This is plenty of time considering that most of the material on the test has already been covered during normal class time, and what is not is easily taught in a small amount of time.

The STAR program is the most practical way to test students across the state. After California discontinued its Learning Assessment System (CLAS) in 1995 and before STAR tests were implemented in 1998, each school district chose its own commercial standardized test. This non-standardized testing system led to inaccurate and varying results across California, and did not allow state officials to analyze how students were progressing.

In the 15 years the STAR test has run, there has been a fairly small amount of controversy, and there are no plans to change the system within the next few years. This is a good indicator that the test is working, and there is no reason to think it won’t work in the future.

Another important feature of the STAR test is its cost-effectiveness compared to other methods of compiling data on students. Imagine if California had to send people to every school and ask for information showing its students’ comprehension of state standards. Realistically, it would be extremely cost-prohibitive and unnecessary at this point.

The debate over standardized testing will continue to rage as long as the tests are given. The tests are not perfect, and due to their standardized nature, never will be. Yet, until those against them come up with viable, long term solutions, tests like the California STAR test remain the most practical and efficient way to test students’ grasp of academic state content standards.