Statewide Testing a Step
We need to know how students compare
– Robert L. Trigg
Wednesday, July 7, 1999
PARENTS, TAXPAYERS, teachers, employers and the nearly 6 million students who attend California’s public schools deserve to know how effective those schools are — and how they compare to schools around the country.
It’s not enough to judge a school by its dropout rate, the percentage of parents who check “very satisfied” on surveys, or the number of computers in each classroom.
We need to know how well students can read, write and do math. We need to know how well students are mastering history, civics and science. We have a right to know whether the billions of dollars we invest in education each year are well spent.
Above all, we owe our children an honest accounting of the schools charged with preparing them for a competitive world.
The state’s assessment program and reform efforts, including a standardized test called the Stanford 9 (SAT 9), help provide the accounting. Public schools are required to give the SAT 9 to students in grades two through 11.
While no test is perfect, the SAT 9 is a solid, reliable means of measuring student achievement against a national norm. The test results are reported individually, as well as by school and district, enabling administrators, teachers, parents and students to understand how well schools and students are doing in relation to students around the state and nation.
The new test is only one part of a broad effort to improve California’s schools. Other efforts include: — Adopting rigorous academic standards in language arts, math, history-social science and science, in keeping with a mandate from the state Legislature. For the first time in memory, the State Board of Educations has spelled out what every student should learn in these areas at each grade level. In most cases, the new standards exceed what districts previously expected students to learn, so schools around the state are going through the difficult process of raising the bar for all students. — Bringing together with the leadership of Governor Gray Davis broad political support for the Public School Accountability Act, which will bring real rewards and consequences to schools based on student achievement. — Requiring, beginning in 2004, that California students will have to pass a high school exit exam in order to graduate. — Lowering class size, approving new and better textbooks, boosting beginning teachers’ salaries, and funding additional teacher training in order to support all of this change.
California’s new academic standards reflect what students will need to know in a 21st century world. While few students enjoy taking standardized tests, the SAT 9 will help keep school officials and teachers focused on our tough standards. If a school is going to be judged, in part, on its test scores, teachers must focus on what is on the test. The SAT 9 has been criticized because the material it covers does not precisely match the material the state’s teachers are now required to teach. The reality is that no nationally normed test is perfectly aligned with our new standards. This year, in accordance with the legislation establishing the new testing program, we added “augmentation items” to the test in the areas of language arts and math. These items will not provide national comparisons, but they will directly test student mastery of our new standards. These augmentation items have been criticized because they test material that, in some cases, hasn’t yet been incorporated into schools’ curricula. While I sympathize with teachers and students wanting to do their best, I believe it’s important to move ahead with this part of the testing program. This year’s results will give us baseline data. California has waited years for a statewide testing program. Without question, we should continue to refine and improve the SAT 9. The State Board of Education welcomes constructive criticism. We will not abandon statewide testing simply because the test isn’t perfect. No standardized test will ever be perfect.
Standardized tests are one of the best defenses our children have against inferior education. Let’s stay the course and build the best public school system California has ever had.
Robert L. Trigg is a former school superintendent and has served on the State Board of Education since 1996. UNDERSET 3 INs
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