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STAR Test Results Released, But Some Say Evaluations Too Rigid

Sonoma Valley shows signs of closing the race-based achievement gap

The state Monday released the long-awaited results of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or the STAR exam, used to determine student progress in reading, language and math, along with science, spelling and the social sciences.

The STAR test is a combination of tests in different subjects given at different grade levels.

The results are used to determine schools' Academic Performance Index scores, which in turn are used to see if schools are meeting federal standards set by No Child Left Behind.  

But the tests vary from district to district and from grade to grade.

Slightly more than 42 percent of students district-wide tested as "Proficient" or higher in English and Language Arts, but nearly 46 percent of students met state standards.

At , about 44 percent of students tested as "Advanced" or "Proficient" in English and Language Arts,' while 77 percent of 's 6th-8th grade students met or exceed state guidelines for verbal ability.

At Sonoma Valley High School, 87 percent of Algebra I students earned marks of "Basic" or lower, with 62 percent earning “Below Basic” or “Far Below Basic” ranking. Now that the district has , Algebra I is a required class for incoming freshman.

View the full reports on the here.

Ethnic achievement gaps show signs of shrinking

While it is possible to draw some broad conclusions from STAR test results such as these, data also reveal detailed information on testing trends between grade levels; comparisons between schools across the state; and comparisons between different groups of Sonoma students based on categories such as ethnicity, income level, disability, parent education level and English language learners.

To crunch the numbers yourself, take a look at the Department of Education’s STAR page.

Sonoma Patch will continue to delve into the 2011 results to look at relevant details, which can shed some light, for example, on the school district’s efforts at closing the achievement gaps between Hispanic students, and others.

As have districts nationally, Sonoma has launched a variety of measures in recent years to close ethnic achievement gaps, including curriculum changes, interventions and counseling.

A slice of 2011 STAR results indicate these steps may be helping.

English Language scores for White students have remained relativity steady over the last few years: In both 2010 and 2011, 46 percent of "Economically Disadvantaged" White students met or exceeded proficiency standards, while the percentage of privileged students meeting standards dropped slightly, from 70 to 71 percent in 2011. 

However, Hispanic and Latino students have shown steady gains over the last eight years. In 2011, 27 percent of "Economically Disadvantaged" Hispanic and Latino students met proficiency in Language Arts, up from 11 percent in 2003. Among 'advantaged' cohorts, Hispanic and Latino students tested on par with district scores: 47 percent met or exceeded proficiency in Language Arts, up from 26 percent in 2003.

Testing only one piece of the picture

Opponents of rigid standardized testing, however, argue federal mandates set forth by No Child Left Behind don't show students' full potential, because people learn differently.

"If the federal and state government wants to have an accountability system, and they want to use standardized testing to evaluate schools and districts, what we really should be doing is evaluating how much students are actually learning over the course of a year,"  said Eric Larsen, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, in May when district Academic Progress Index scores were released.

The Sonoma Valley Unified School District could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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Angela Hart contributed reporting.

Rena B August 19, 2011 at 04:03 PM
There always is some contraversy when standardized test scores appear. But like it or not, we will be tested in some way for most of our lives, whether it is a job placement test or a college placement test.
Albert David August 19, 2011 at 05:48 PM
If they do things, the way they do on the SATs, for example, students with special learning issues may have longer time or other accommodations. But the reality it that we do need to have some kind of testing for these basic skills. Looking at the low math skills in certain schools for algebra, I wonder whether some other means of teaching the subject would be better for these students. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to get a grasp of algebra one. So rather than deciding the tests are unfair, perhaps we should look at different ways of working with students in those schools with low scores--perhaps the teaching methods need to be revised in some way such as including an extra math period twice a week or offering two hours a week of tutorial type teaching.
Dee Baucher August 22, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Public schools in this state, and in this school district, have fallen victim to political correctness and complacency. Most concerned families who are able, remove their kids from these schools, and find alternatives. (charter schools, private schools, parochial schools) Our public schools cater to "immigrant families" with low English skills and comparable expectations for academic achievement. The public school system, especially as directed by the teachers' unions, have embraced this evolution over the last few decades. (Perhaps this was seen as a way for schools and teachers to circumvent demands from families for greater tangible success.) This is why the testing has become so necessary. There can be no more pretense of public schools being capable of providing a solid educational basis for our children' s success. The reality is that the entire public school system has deteriorated to an unacceptable level. I, personally, find this very sad.

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