STAR Assessments, part 2

It’s clear to me now that STAR assessments are not all that good… at least not from my perspective.  Yes, they give immediate feedback to the teachers.  Yes, compared to other testing systems, they are short.  But when you weigh the pros and cons of using STAR, I have to come out against them.  I will continue to opt my children out from all standardized tests, including STAR assessments.  I can understand why some teachers see the positive side of STAR… I guess if you’re forced to choose a system of assessment for your school, STAR is one of the better choices and I suppose teachers have to make the best of it.  But as a parent, I will not relinquish my choice to say “no thank you!  This does nothing for us!”

I presented my last post to several wonderful FB support groups and received some great feedback, much of it from teachers who use STAR themselves.  Nobody had anything completely positive to say.

Like all tests, they are being overused, with some teachers being told they should administer a STAR assessment every week!  Would you want your child doing this every single week?  I wouldn’t!  I consider this valuable hours wasted at the expense of real learning.  There is also the danger of administrators (and some teachers) relying on STAR too heavily.  In this way, students are seen more as data rather than as individuals.

STAR is just one indicator of how a student is doing, and depending on the day it isn’t even a reliable indicator.  I was curious if STAR focused too much on vocabulary and short-term memorization skills.  One person said this, “the ones we give supposedly test reading level, but the sentences are out of context, timed, and do not include comprehension. No good teacher would ever consider it a conclusive reading diagnostic piece.”

For those of you unfamiliar with these assessments, they are done on the computer.  Many schools don’t even have the computer infrastructure to administer these tests in a timely manner, with classes fighting over computer time.  Only the richest schools won’t be burdened.  But most of us will have to deal with this added financial stress, not only to pay for STAR, but to upgrade computer labs as well.

To one teacher, STAR is “Not authentic, in my opinion, to sit students in front of a computer screen and have them complete brief multiple choice exercises on their own…  Too many variables and too unlike real life (or even ridiculously invalid, isolated and sanitized state assessments), in my opinion, to base evaluations on. But it’s an easy way to churn out numbers, and THAT’s the new money is speech, corporations are people, people are numbers approach.”

Rural Teacher had this to say in a comment on my last post:

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!!

I am a supporter of locally developed methods of assessment, but many schools use commercially developed tests such as STAR as part of their state mandates, not only to gauge student progress, but rather as a predictor to how the student will do on the end of the year state tests.  But there is evidence out there that indicates that these tests have little to no predictive ability in regards to how students will do on the state tests, and there is little evidence that they have actually improved student achievement.

A study by the Regional Educational Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University, The predictive validity of selected benchmark assessments used in the Mid-Atlantic Region, found that “…that evidence is generally lacking of their predictive validity with respect to the required summative assessments in the Mid-Atlantic Region jurisdictions.”

Furthermore, in the article Exposing the Imbalance of ‘Balanced Assessment‘ (page 14) by W. James Popham, Professor Emeritus at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, interim assessments such as STAR are described as “neither supported by research evidence, nor are they regarded by the public or policy makers as being of particular merit.”  Their biggest advocate?  The for-profit companies that make and market them.

And it is the concept of outsourcing our needs to for-profit test developing companies that seals the NO deal for me.  I’m told that STAR assessments are the cheaper of the choices, but what is it costing our district?  What is the cost of this product each year?  And how much money do we have to pour into new computers and other infrastructure just to accommodate this type of testing?

I recall one teacher at the Geneva gathering who said her district is already spending more on STAR than they get from the Race To The Top grant.  I know that my district only gets a bit over $32,000 over four years.  That’s only $8000 a year!

They are my children and I am and will always be an involved parent and their greatest advocate.  If I continue to choose public education (as opposed to homeschooling), it will be contingent on some good old civil disobedience.  I will continue to question everything and opt out if I have to.  If I am seen as the pain-in-the-ass parent, then so be it.


3 thoughts on “STAR Assessments, part 2

  1. I am applauding you – YOUR CHILD, YOUR CHOICE! Thank you! Because of strong outspoken and informed parents like you, I have so much hope that we will derail this crazy train!

  2. Pingback: My 15 Minutes… « The Plain Satisfactions

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