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California STAR Testing scores drop, but for a reason

TUESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2013 20:37 PM

Another round of the California Standards Tests, which are part of the California STAR Testing Program, has come and gone. No one ever wants to hear that students' scores have dropped, but this is the case with the 2013 STAR results, according to the California Department of Education.

Scores are down, but only slightly
While lower test scores are never a good sign, parents should know the changes were small. Overall, approximately 4.7 million students in grades two through eleven participated in the STAR Testing Program.

A total of 56.4 percent of students scored proficient or above in English language arts, which was 0.8 percentage points lower than last year. In mathematics, pupils' scores dropped 0.3 percentage points from last year, as 51.2 percent of test takers were proficient or above in the subject. Proficiency or above in science was down 0.4 percentage points to 59.1 percent.

Despite all these drops, there was some positive news. In history-social science, 49.4 percent of students were at least proficient, compared to 48.8 percent last year.

Students' results explained
Of course, with so many scores on the decline, parents may wonder what could cause students to struggle on the California Standards Tests. As it turns out, several factors influenced the changes.

Budget cuts throughout the state, as well as ongoing financial uncertainties, are said to have played a role in the lower scores. The transition California is making to the Common Core State Standards has also had an impact on students.

"As you would expect for a school system in transition, results varied from grade to grade, subject to subject, and school to school, but the big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges," said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement. "While we all want to see California's progress continue, these results show that in the midst of change and uncertainty, teachers and schools kept their focus on students and learning. That's a testament to the depth of their commitment to their students and the future of our state."

Fixing the problem
Even if lower scores can be explained, educators still do not want to see them remain down, or drop even further. For this reason, school districts are taking action. In the Knightsen Elementary District, for example, teachers are taking steps to turn students' scores around in the 2013-2014 academic year, the Contra Costa Times reported. Superintendent Theresa Estrada told the news source that class sizes would be smaller moving forward.

Meanwhile, at River Charter School in the Napa Valley Unified School District, students performed well, but Principal Linda Inlay believes they could still do better in the years ahead, according to the Napa Valley Register. This is especially true with the Charter School's mathematics scores.

Saying goodbye to the STAR Testing Program
Parents and educators may have grown used to comparing one year's STAR results to those from another year, but this is likely to be the last year that is possible. Torlakson said 2013 would probably be the Program's final year, as schools adopt computer-based assessments that are aligned with the CCSS.

"As valuable as STAR has been, we're getting ready to raise the bar in California's schools," Torlakson said. "This coming year, many students will have their first chance to try tests that measure their preparation for college and the world of work. That's a huge challenge for every part of our education system - but one we have to tackle to give every student the opportunity to prepare for a bright future."