Jennifer Terman

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October 20, 2013
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STAR tests no longer used for academic assessment in Nevada County

For the first time since its implementation more than a decade ago, California’s STAR testing will be discontinued this spring — and no accountability measurement for mathematics or English/language arts will replace it in the current school year.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s Oct. 2nd signing of Assembly Bill 484 eliminated STAR testing and replaced it with Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress in 2014-15, when elementary and secondary students participate in computer-based assessments. Some schools will participate in field tests of the new Smarter Balance Consortium this school year, in line with Common Core standards. But those results will not be released or used to assess students. Instead, the field tests will serve as practice for the new testing and standards in English/language arts and mathematics.

“They have made it clear there will be no results on this field test,” said Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson. “This is radical. There is no official form of assessment in the state of California for this school year, except for science.”

But Grass Valley, like many Nevada County school districts, will be developing a benchmark assessment for personal use by teachers, Fredrickson said.

“We need to report out to our community how our school is progressing,” he said. “We are not doing district-level accountability, but I do expect school sites to establish benchmark assessments to report out their progress for Common Core and whatever that looks like. There’s lots of freedom.”

Thomas Bivens, principal of Ready Springs Elementary and Vantage Point Charter schools in the Pleasant Valley School District, will also be preparing students for the new curriculum.

“We are accessing sample test questions that are available,” he said. “We are also looking into purchasing testing questions so students can take them on computers, just like the actual assessment. Our staff is taking this seriously because we are going to be ready. Our district has been on top of Common Core standards for a year and a half so we could transition as soon as the California Standards Tests were dropped.”

Another aspect of the elimination of official statewide assessment is no school will enter Program Improvement, a sanctioned status determined by an inability to meet state target goals based on factors including assessment scores. Schools participating in Program Improvement will not be able to exit that status, however. These schools have to set aside money for student improvement programs, including tutoring services, and must notify parents that they can choose to send students to schools outside of the sanctioned district.

Schools under the Program Improvement designation are required to provide detailed reports on the improvement plan, but that will not be necessary this school year due to the changes to the accountability assessment.

“That is huge for us,” said Fredrickson, whose district has two schools in Program Improvement — Scotten Elementary in year two and Lyman Gilmore Middle School in year four.

“We’re not going to get into all these other plans and things,” Fredrickson said.

“I’m totally relieved. I thought ‘How am I going to do that and the LCAP and Common Core expenditure plan?’”

The field tests that are being administered will have students taking the math or language arts section and will serve as practice for teachers, as well. Teachers can take the test and see how it is structured.

Another change with the new testing of the curriculum is the timing of the tests. They will no longer be administered at the end of spring but instead will be given at different times throughout the school year to check for comprehension of the curriculum.

“This thing is going to be rotating classes through and will be intuitive and measure where kids are at the time,” Fredrickson said.

“It’s a totally different model with progressive tests. And the tests will have results that are going to be instantaneous, with immediate feedback.”

One of the concerns about the new Common Core is affordability, Fredrickson said.

“The biggest thing for us now is instructional materials, as soon as they tell us what they are,” he said.

“You’re going to have huge amounts of materials purchased. During a conference call (with California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson), he said he is going to ask the Legislature for more money. Even though they put $1.6 billion toward this, we are not going to be able to do technology, staff development and materials without enough money.”

Another challenge of the new Common Core overhaul is special education, since it currently requires that every student access grade-level curriculum, which is undefined for special needs students, said Director of Special Education Janet Horowitz.

Having to think outside of the box, she found a program called Goalbook, which is based on universal design through learning adaptation strategies.

Horowitz expressed the need to modify standards for special education students and said it’s unreasonable to expect special education students to be able to take a computer assessment.

“They are not going to be able to read 50 words,” she said.

“But if given 15 words, with prefixes and suffixes, with one-on-one teacher guidance, then kids are getting that access and can move forward. For me, this is really exciting because it’s about how we get our kids the access to learning, help them grow and reach their potential.

“That’s what our mission is for intervention programs — to help kids reach their potential.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Oct 21, 2013 04:49PM Published Oct 22, 2013 11:20AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.