Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thoughts on API and Standardized Testing

KleoPatra asked:

Is that good or bad? Is this room for improvement or is it a sign of times to come? Curious what you make of it all...

referring to this post.

It's good and bad. We've stayed where we were in some cases. We were ranked as an 8 last year and we're still an 8 this year. I'm not sure what the criteria (score) is to get us ranked as a 9, or as a 10 for that matter. So I'm not sure how much as a school overall we need to raise our API (Academic Performance Index).

We did go up 21 points, which I think is a good improvement. Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely. I think that most of our student sub-groups improved, except for our socioeconomically disadvanted students. So, that's not good, and clearly needs improving.

But there are more general problems with standardized testing...

One, I don't like them. Too much emphasis is put on them. It causes a lot of stress for students and teachers that is unnecessary.

Two, I don't know how useful they are. It would be better to administer a comprehensive test like this at the end of the school year. But in California, the STAR test is administered about 80% of the way through the school year. I'm not sure that students and their parents understand that no one is really expected to be able to answer 100% of the questions. There are some things I haven't taught yet; the school year is not over. Because I teach fifth grade and my current students will be in middle school next year, I don't receive their test scores for this school year; they are sent to their next school. I know how each of them did last year when they were in fourth grade, but I never get their scores from fifth grade. I think this is a serious gap. We teachers have all this accountability, but the information isn't being properly distributed. I think the middle school teachers should continue to get the results, but I should too. How can I see what impact I've had on my students if I don't get the test scores so I can make comarisons? I can't. We do get an overall picture of how they did as a group at the beginning of the next school year, but not the specifics that would be actually useful. Granted, I don't think most teachers are that interested in the specific data like I am, but it should still be routinely provided. Because I don't see the results, it really has no impact on the teaching I'm doing. The assessments, tests, quizzes, assignments, etc. that I give drive my instruction because I see the results of my teaching. I don't see the results of the standardized tests, so it doesn't really impact my instruction. It takes up a lot of time, but doesn't help me be a better teacher.

Just for clarification... STAR stands for Standardized Testing and Reporting. This is what the state of California calls it's standardized testing program. Everyone calls it the STAR test, but what we actually administer is the CST, the California Standards Test. And by accountability, I mean I'm a public school teacher. I'm essentially a public servant. Anyone can ask me about what and how I'm teaching. The results of of my students' results on the CST is turned into an API for my school. And the API is published on the web and in local newspapers. Parents look at the API for prospective schools. It impacts property values. Again, too much emphasis is placed on these results.

Three, I don't think standardized tests are a good measure of what my students can do. It's just one test. Or a series of tests over the course of a handful of days. Relative to the rest of the year, these few tests carry too much weight. What about all the other work and learning that we've done the rest of the year? That doesn't seem to count. It gets lost in the equation. They're tested in English-Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. English includes reading comprehension, spelling, grammar, writing, etc. There's no real writing component; the students don't write anything. They just fill in bubbles. What about History/Social Science? We teach it, but it's not tested. Is it because it's not as important? One could interpret it that way.

Okay, I think that's enough for today. I'm sure I could write more, but I'm pretty tired and I think it's time to stop.


  1. I want to show my sister, a reading recovery specialist, your blog... she's just so freakin' busy, but you make some very valid and interesting points, that i know she'd want to read... i'll have to bug her to visit here... thanx for taking the time to respond to my query/comments, Mr. Walker! :o)

  2. You're absolutely welcome. I've had many of these thoughts bouncing around in my head for some time. Your questions helped me to get off my butt and put some of them down on paper(?!?) I'd be curious to hear what your sister thinks.