STAR Assessments, Are they really that good?

Can somebody please help me?  I need to know more about STAR Assessments!

I missed the last board meeting at my school.  My bad, yes I know… But any parent of very young children will attest to that time of day being the MOST difficult.

Anyway, I was informed by one of the board members, who happens to be a friend of mine, that I missed an “interesting” presentation by our two middle/ high school English teachers.  Apparently they had nothing but positive feedback on the STAR Assessments that are used at our school.  They loved getting detailed and prompt results to see which students needed help and in what areas exactly.  My board member friend recounted their gushing praise of the system.  Our younger middle/ high school math teacher had similar praise, which I learned from my sister who is her friend.  I guess that before STAR they had no clue how to evaluate their students???

So, am I the one who is misinformed?

I don’t have a problem using a form of technology like this to aid in student assessments.  STAR products are made by Renaissance Learning, whose slogan is “Advanced Technology for Data-Driven Schools.”  Enough said for me… I’ve already talked about my opposition to schools being so data-driven.  But if teachers do in fact find STAR so helpful, am I wrong to criticize?

Our principal loves STAR.  During my opt-out meeting with her she stated she would use it even if there wasn’t a requirement for the state.  She also said that STAR was not being used for teacher evaluations, at least not for elementary (as far as I know).  We opted out anyway as there is no good reason for all these assessments in young children.

Is STAR being used to evaluate teachers?  I’ve found it hard to research all the ins and outs of STAR.  Much of the heavy criticism is aimed at the high-stakes state tests that begin in 3rd grade.  I did read that STAR is just one of many state-approved assessment systems used in VAM (value-added modeling), which scores the teacher on his performance.  And I have a problem with value-added assessment. 

My problem begins here:  If STAR is touted as a useful aid for a teacher’s assessment of his/ her students, then why can’t that teacher be present when the test is being administered?  Don’t we trust the teacher?  You’d think the teacher might actually benefit from watching his/ her students answer the questions.  Could it be that the process is just as important as the outcome?

I also do NOT like the idea of our children’s data being compiled in some bureaucratic office.  Anyone else freaked out by all the data-gathering being done out there?

STAR might indeed by innocuous, but it is still a product for which someone has to pay.  When our meager RTTT dollars run out, who will foot the bill?  (We know the answer to this).  And is it worth it when we have so many other things that must compete for our schools finite budgets?

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4 thoughts on “STAR Assessments, Are they really that good?

  1. Somebody brought up a great point that I missed: that STAR primarily tests vocabulary. I wonder if the curriculum is geared towards a greater vocabulary in terms of skill-and-drill memorization. This type of learning is short-term. Do STAR assessments do anything to gauge how a student actually uses vocabulary?

  2. Here’s what I know from my limited (my first graders have been tested twice on the Early Literacy STAR) experience: YES, there is immediate data – percentile ranks, range of proximal development (how much we can expect a child to “grow”), estimated oral reading fluency, estimated reading level, amount of growth or decline. It also spits out handy, dandy parent reports and detailed skills based reports for teachers. HOWEVER, all this data tells me NOTHING REAL as a teacher. All it does is give some support to my observations. I don’t watch them take the test, so I have no idea which questions they answered incorrectly – which is what I really want to know. I learn more from wrong answers than from right ones. I also have one case where a student who took the Early Literacy test (which is all read to them) is now considered to be a reader, when I KNOW that this child is NOT reading at the estimated level that STAR tells me.
    Our school is using STAR as “Progress Monitoring” only and NOT as our local growth score. I believe that is a decision that is made at the local level, but STAR is absolutely an “APPROVED VENDOR” for that use. We purchased STAR because it was the cheapest and honestly, the shortest tests we could buy. A testing session lasts about 30 minutes – so I guess if a district HAS to use something, I would prefer it to be a 30 minute ‘test’ than days upon days of testing.
    I got the parent STAR reports for my sons in READING, because the MATH doesn’t go beyond Geometry and they’re both past that. My sophomore should be choosing books (according to STAR) in the range of 4.8 (fourth grade, eighth month) and 10.1 (tenth grade first month). My senior should be choosing books in the range of 5.0 to 13.0. I guess that means that if either of them chooses a 5th grade book for a book report, it would be acceptable?? I wouldn’t stand for that as a parent! The parent report claims that the teacher will be using these test scores to “help develop his reading skills through the selection of books for reading practice at school.” but both of them are in classes where the whole class is reading the SAME BOOK ! When parents brought their STAR reports to conferences with me, I told them to basically ignore the report (it was from September) and I talked to them about what I SEE in my classroom and explained why I either agreed or disagreed with the test report. ALL of the parents were HAPPY to put the damn report away and actually TALK with me about what their child is doing in school.
    WHEW- didn’t think I would have that much to say, and I don’t know if I helped you at all in getting information, but thanks for giving me a place to have my say about STAR!!

    • Very helpful indeed!!! I was hoping you would weigh in on this! Thanks. I quoted your comment in its entirety in my follow up post.

  3. Pingback: STAR Assessments, part 2 « The Plain Satisfactions

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