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YouthSpeaksOut! is an hour long monthly public affairs show hosted by high school students in Mendocino County California. Produced by Dan Roberts
Today our topic is Testing 2014- New and Improved!- Really? YouthSpeaksOut! had a show in 2006 called Testing- What Does it Prove? The hosts and listening community discussed how much emphasis is placed on testing in our educational system- and to what extent it accurately assesses how well individual students and schools were learning the material presented. That show is worth listening to and is available in streaming form at our website www.youthspeaksout.net or contact the producer for a CD.
In the 8 years since that show was broadcast there have been numerous modifications to how high school students are tested. Most notably there have been significant changes to the standardized tests and the SAT college entrance exam. The STAR tests (that is Standardized Testing And Reporting) began in 1999 as the cornerstone of the California Public School Accountability Act. The primary objective was to help schools improve the academic achievement of all students.
In March 2013 it was announced that the STAR testing system was set to expire in July 2014, and California would replace STAR tests with more in-depth exams in two years in 2015. These new exams would follow the new Common Core State Standards and have requirements for in-depth essays and projects that students will complete on computers. Last fall the California State Legislature voted to drop STAR testing for this year, which led to a beta test of the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). This test of a test was administered this Spring in our high schools.
The Star tests used to last 4 days and were largely multiple choice questions answered by filling in circles, with some essays that were graded by readers. This new Common Core test lasted 2 hours and was given on laptop computers hooked up to the internet. There were essays but they will be graded by a computer program which left many teachers wondering how that is possible- will the score be graded by design, keywords, or what? There is also a feature called adaptive testing, which changes the questions an individual student sees on their computer based on correct and incorrect answers. The results of this year s trial test will not be given to the schools.
One of the problems with the previously used STAR tests was that many teachers shaped their curriculum toward the test. There was pressure to do this since schools were judged on their students performance- schools scoring poorly would get funds for improvement for two years, but if they did not improve scores then, the government would demand changes in the administration and teaching staff. And schools that scored well were still required to keep scoring higher or they would lose some federal educational funding.
The Common Core testing is a federal program. Many critics say it impinges on States rights- for example the right of a state to exclude the teaching of evolution in the classroom. Or civil rights. Or gay rights. As a result of uneasiness about federally mandated education, 5 states have refused to adopt Common Core Standards. A number of other states are being pushed by some citizens to drop the program.
The most common form of testing in the schools is for individual subjects. These tests are to show academic progress and create a ranking in each class. Some students find testing easy and are enthusiastic about it. Many students stress a great deal before and during tests. A number of students have developed a sense that they will do poorly in any test and really don t try. The resulting grades become a permanent record and, in many cases, influence how people fit into society. Interestingly, a number of studies have shown that the grades one receives in school do not accurately predict success in life, neither financially nor emotionally.
Alternatives to the A to F grading scales have been around since the late 1960s. Pass/fail is an option in many colleges, allowing students to maintain higher grade point averages in subjects that they know they will be able to pass but not excel in. Some colleges, notably UC Santa Cruz, adapted a narrative evaluation system, where the teacher would discuss with the student how well they did rather than give an A to F letter ranking. There are still several dozen colleges in the US offering this system, though most also give or offer letter grades.
The other new and improved test is the SAT college entrance exam. The changes will take place in 2016. According to the National Association for College Admission, students grades and the academic rigor of their courses weigh more heavily than standardized tests in the admission process of most colleges. However a low SAT will make admission much less likely. The 5 hour test is grueling to most students, and the fear of it creates serious stress in most as well.
So the announced improvements are that the reading and writing sections will include questions that require students to cite evidence for their answer choices, and will include reading passages from a broader range of disciplines, including science, history, social studies and literature. Test takers will no longer be asked to complete sentences with obscure words they might have memorized from flash cards. The math section will no longer allow calculators to be used on every portion. It will focus on data analysis and real world problem-solving, algebra and some more advanced math concepts. Essays will be scored separately from the rest of the test, and the prompt will remain basically the same in every test: It will ask students to consider a passage and write an essay that analyzes how the author made an argument, used evidence and styled ideas. The redesigned test will take about three hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the essay, and will be administered by print and computer.
The goal of the changes to the SAT test will be to make it more aligned to what students learn in high school and not require special training to answer trick questions. Bob Shaeffer, a critic of college entrance exams, says that the changes to the SAT are cosmetic surgery. He said, High school grades will continue to forecast students graduation chances more accurately. The exam will still under-predict the performance of females, students whose home language is not English and older applicants. SAT scores will remain a better measure of family income than of college readiness.
So we will begin this program by discussing our experiences in academic testing, what we have learned about changes in testing, and what we think of the grading system. Then we ll open the phone lines for your questions and input. We are at the Willits Studio so our phone number will be 456-9991. We ll tell you when to call in about 20 minutes.
Let s start by describing the Common Core Tests we had last month. Jordan, how did the test compare to the STAR tests we have had forever?
We re going to open the phone lines now. The phone number is 707 456-9991. Everyone is welcome to call, and we d especially like to encourage the youth, their parents, teachers, and concerned friends in the listening audience. Please call in if you have questions or insights about testing and grades in our schools.
Do you have an opinion about high-stake standardized testing? Do you think that Common Core testing will be an improvement over STAR testing? Should the federal government be influencing our educational curriculum?
How do you feel about the Common Core test being administered on computers?
Did you take the SAT College Entrance Exam? What was your experience? Will the new improved version be better?
Do you think that our school grading system works in a mostly positive way? Did you find testing easy or difficult when you were in school? Do students get trapped by good or bad grades at an early age? Does the grading system help or hinder our young people?
Did your high school grades accurately predict your adult life? For example if you were a B student in high school, are you leading a B life ? If you were a D student, are you leading a D life?
Please call in and be part of this conversation.