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STAR-ting spring

Students, teachers prep for annual state standards test
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Students in the Loomis area are poised to begin the annual spring rite-of-passage, STAR testing. The state-required tests determine if schools and their students are making the grade. STAR is an acronym for Standardized Testing and Reporting. “The test’s purpose is to define a child’s level of mastery of grade-level standards,” said Carolyn Nichols, assistant superintendent of the Loomis Union School District. District students in grades two to eight are tested in reading/language arts and math. In addition, older students, depending on the grade, are tested in science and history/social science. Del Oro High School freshmen, sophomores and juniors also take the multi-day STAR test. Most elementary teachers go over the material and give the children sample STAR tests in advance of the actual testing, while Del Oro students do not review for the tests. “Our philosophy is if you have solid teaching in the class then the STAR test takes care of itself,” said Jeff Tooker, an assistant principal at Del Oro. Sue Czapkay, a second-grade teacher at H. Clarke Powers School, works all year with her seven-year-old students to ready them for their first STAR test. “It’s a big test for them. We test for five days, two hours a day,” she said. “That’s a long time for them to sit still.” Czapkay said they teach the curriculum all year long, but have to teach the children how to fill in a bubble and how to go back and look for answers in material. Students describe the test as easy, hard, interesting or long, depending on their ages. Payton Montes, 9, a Powers School third-grader, described his first experience at taking the STAR test last year. “It was stressful,” he said. “It was very difficult to find out answers,” said nine-year-old Rebecca Schmidt, also of Powers. According to Nichols, there has always been some form of standardized state testing. She also said that students all across the country are undergoing this type of testing. “Schools need a wholesale measurement of themselves. It’s not a bad thing,” Nichols said. Many schools are accused of “teaching to the test” and putting too much emphasis on the state tests at the expense of other curriculum. Paul Johnson, Loomis Union School District superintendent, said, “We have a nice balance in our district. Some districts eat, breathe and sleep the STAR test.” “At Del Oro we want to do well, but it (STAR) doesn’t drive who we are,” Tooker said. Nichols said they just “encourage the students to work hard and to do their best.” She said parents are advised to have their children get a good night’s sleep and have a full breakfast on STAR test days. According to the California Department of Education Web site, “Test results are used for student and school accountability purposes.” The scores are processed in a complex, state-determined formula to provide schools and districts with their Academic Performance Index. Johnson said that all of the district schools are rated in the mid- to upper-800’s, which puts them in the top 10 percent of schools in the state. According to Tooker, Del Oro is one of the few high schools in the area that is rated at over 800. “To be above 800 is excellent. Our schools are knocking on the door of the stratosphere,” Johnson said. Johnson said a high Academic Performance Index score builds community pride and benefits property values. He believes that families are attracted to high-achieving school districts. Nichols explained that STAR test results are used when adopting new textbooks and help determine which students are not meeting standards so that intervention can occur. Johnson said, “STAR tests are just one measure of student achievement.” Johnson believes that student “period assessments” are more valuable than STAR results, while Del Oro’s Tooker sees the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) as a better measurement of how the school is doing. He stated Del Oro has a 100% student passage rate on the CAHSEE, excluding those students in special education. According to Johnson, state law prevents any administrator from using the standardized tests for teacher evaluation, but he said teachers can use them for self-evaluation. At Del Oro, each department is able to review test results to make curriculum adjustments. Student STAR tests results are mailed home to parents during the summer so they can review the data and see how their children performed. The schools are able to review the data to plan for the next school year. Nichols added a word of caution regarding STAR test data. “Data is used to drive business, but kids are our business, not data. We have to keep that in mind,” she said.