This week the California Standardized Test results have been released, and according to the California Department of Education, “far too many students are not meeting proficiency. They are making gains but the [achievement] gap remains.”
The STAR testing program is California’s state assessment required by the No Child Left Behind Act. The program uses a variety of tests to fit particular groups of students, including the California Standards Test, Modified Assessment Test, California Alternate Performance Assessment, and now a Standards-Based tests in Spanish.
Overall, scores for 2009 show 50 percent of students scored proficient or above in English language arts, and 46 percent scored proficient or above in math. This is a15-point increase from the 2008 scores for English and an 11-point increase for math.
“Hispanic and African-American students not from low-income backgrounds still did not meet proficiency, while socioeconomically disadvantaged white students performed better,” said State Superintendent Jack O’ Connell. “The education system needs to find a way to close the gap.”
But are any plans in place to fix the system?
In order to inform parents about the current state of the education system, the CDE created the www.starsamplequestions.org website, which is suppose to serve as a one-stop site for data from the test results. STAR results, according to the CDE, are intended to help teachers, parents, and education officials identify strengths and weaknesses to improve student learning. In theory, the data enables students and their parents to compare individual academic abilities against grade-level requirements.
The CDE site requires parents to navigate through numerous links and four different web pages, all the while sorting through state, county, district, and local school data. This renders pages full of links, references, charts, and definitions on how to interpret the data.
But even if parents can find the information they need, the real problem is that none of the information about their child’s performance is actionable. If parents are dissatisfied with their child’s score and local school performance, there is no other action short of moving, paying for private school, or homeschooling. For any kind accountability to work parents need more school options, as in Florida.
In 1998, 53 percent of Florida fourth graders scored basic or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, increasing to 70 percent by 2007. As Florida scores increased, California’s decreased with students scoring 53 percent basic or above in 2007, even with increases in funding. The difference is that 10 years ago Florida invested in a bottom-up approach to accountability—giving parents freedom to choose another school if their child’s current school wasn’t working for them.
The plan was based on high standards and expectations, clear measurement, and accountability, parental choice, and competition and rewards and consequences for results,” said Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, in Demography in Not Destiny, a study by Vicki Murray of the Pacific Research Institute and Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute in Arizona.
Unlike California’s complicated STAR system, Florida’s A+ Accountability System grades schools the same way students are graded, on an ‘A’ to ‘F’ scale. This makes it easier for parents to identify which schools are performing, and which ones aren’t. Even better, Florida parents are eligible to receive a scholarship up to $4,500 to transfer to any other school, private or public, if their school is underperforming.
Through Florida’s A+ program, parents are also free to put their child in any school. Using of student assessment along with the actionable component inserts healthy competition benefiting families and public schools. Underperforming schools in Florida improved by more than 10 points in reading and close to 16 points in math, according to a study by Jay P. Green, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
California has more than 1,100 education laws and a 500-page education code.. The state’s standardized tests help analyze student achievement and find better classroom practices. California can compliment these measures by allowing parents to find a better school for their child, where all students can reach their full potential.
Evelyn B. Stacey is an education studies research fellow at Pacific Research Institute, in Sacramento.