Why We Opt Out of STAR

New York State testing season for grades 3-8 is looming in the near future and activists are finalizing their opt-out plans.  I support all of these parents and their children!  We are not facing any high-stakes tests this year, but did you know that there are many other assessments being forced on your children–Assessments that have nothing to do with enriching, child-centered learning?

My son is only in Pre-K.  But the Common Core has already laid its filthy fingers upon him.  The absurd logical reasoning is that if we force rigor and high standards down this low, the kids will ignore their own natural stages of physical, emotional, and cognitive development and respond accordingly, learning better and faster so that they can be ready for menial employment college or career after graduation.  And how else can we expect our kids to shine on their state tests if we don’t start the rigor early?  It’s interesting if you look up the word rigor in the dictionary… the associations are mostly negative, yet this is a word used quite often by backers of the Common Core.

The 62 page manual, New York State Prekindergarten Foundation for the Common Core actually contains a great deal of wisdom about the development of 4-5 year olds.  For example, it acknowledges that children learn in individual ways and at their own pace.  It mentions “play” in several places and associates the importance of play in learning.  It talks about creativity and imagination.  It cites the importance of social and emotional development.  But much of its thick middle is devoted to what children should know in ELA, math, and science.  All the details make me gag, and I think they could have abridged this document by stating that kids are naturally curious creatures with an inherent love of learning.  Do all that you can to foster this and do not crush their spirit.  But they don’t say this.  ‘Fun‘ only shows up in words like ‘function,’ ‘fundamental,’ and ‘funding.’

Asininely Naturally if we expect certain standards to be reached we must assess the students in one way or another.  Our school uses STAR, a product of Renaissance Learning.  STAR is used to gauge student progress in ELA and math, supposedly for the benefit of the teacher.  Our school declared STAR as the method of assessment for grades K-2 SLOs (student learning objectives).  The use of state-approved 3rd party assessments under a school’s APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) plan is a state mandate as part of Race to the Top.  The meager dollars a school receives from RttT doesn’t even begin to cover what the school must spend on all of these mandates.  By the way, if you’ve ever tried to decipher some of the bullshit information contained in an APPR, let me warn you… it’s a daunting task.  You can find your school’s APPR plan here.

Anyway, back to STAR and why we opted our son out of taking any of those assessments.

  • Using STAR to assess a Pre-K child’s learning progress focuses on an area of learning I just don’t care about right now–ELA.  It doesn’t focus on what really matters to his age-group–namely play, creativity, natural and individual development, socialization–you know the things New York State cites themselves in their big ol’ document.  I’m not against him learning his letters, numbers, and some words… But why must it be assessed formally?  I can see no reason.  They should have nothing to prove at this age!!!
  •  I have no faith in the Common Core, especially at this tender young age and I do not support APPR.  So why would I support a form of assessment that is mandated as part of these systems?  STAR as part of SLOs don’t kick in until kindergarten at my school, but I will never allow my son’s scores on a test to be used to judge his teacher in any way.
  • I do not support a mandate that our school has to pay for. I understand that there are teachers that really like the way STAR works, but it is a product that costs money, and the state requires us to purchase it (or something similar from the approved list), and I worry about the cumulative effect of what all these mandates are going to cost us and what we’ll have to give up because of it.
  • Assessing young children is unreliable.  Any number of things can affect how they do on an assessment, such as hunger, being tired, or stress.  STAR assessments are computer adaptive, meaning that with each correct answer the questions get harder or with each incorrect answer the questions get easier.  Children recognize this, and have been known to answer incorrectly in order to get easier questions.
  • The results of a STAR assessment helps determine if a student needs intervention.  I have heard numerous accounts of students getting services they don’t need because they missed the cut-off score by a couple of points.  Conversely, students that actually need extra help didn’t get it because they did just fine on their STAR assessment.  And don’t forget, if a student scores low, they will be retested over and over again to make sure things are improving… this could mean an assessment every week.  This doesn’t apply to Pre-K, but I have no intention of ever allowing my son to be a pawn in this madness.
  • I believe that his teacher can judge him properly without STAR.  Observation, portfolios, and running records are more effective.  Furthermore, a purchased product cannot judge the things that really matter in a 5-year-old’s development.  Only his teacher can do this!
  • STAR might provide a beautiful data chart for the teacher’s benefit, but I am skeptical.  Why can’t the teacher be present while his/ her students are doing the assessment?  Are we afraid (s)he might help her students cheat?  Or are we afraid (s)he might actually benefit from seeing the process in which his/her kids are participating?  It makes no sense to me.
  • To quote a teacher that I highly respect, “STAR is a bunch of crap.”  Again, I don’t mean to offend those teachers that find value in it, but I don’t share their perspective.  The stories about STAR being misused and overused, and the stories about the results being just plain wrong when compared to what the actual teacher knew about his/ her students have me worried.
  • I also worry about where my child’s data is going when he does these assessments on the computer.  Is it guaranteed to stay local and for the classroom teacher’s use ONLY?
  • I worry about the increased use of computer assessments in general and how much more money this is going to cost our district to increase infrastructure, purchase assessments, and to purchase updates (there are always updates, aren’t there?).  I also worry about the complications of scheduling to get all of these kids into the computer lab for their numerous assessments.
  • Even if STAR wasn’t part of a mandate, even if it was free, even if it was reliable, and even if the data was sure to stay in-house, it could only of benefit a teacher as a secondary and partial tool for evaluation. But there is a real risk in relying too heavily on data alone.  If a teacher does that and ignores his/ her own skills to evaluate students, then they lose focus of their students as people and individuals.  And this might lead to complacency and plain old bad teaching.  To quote a teacher I know, “at least I don’t have to come up with something myself.”

7 thoughts on “Why We Opt Out of STAR

  1. Pingback: IEPs, STAR testing, and a Culture of Fear | The Plain Satisfactions

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  3. Pingback: It’s official… well, not really | The Plain Satisfactions

  4. Pingback: Ready to opt out! | Oneonta Area For Public Education

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