Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2009-2010 California used the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program to measure student learning in grades 2 through 11. The STAR program includes the California Standards Tests (CSTs, a series of standards-based assessments), the California Modified Assessment (CMA, a standards-based test for many students with individualized education programs), the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA, for students with significant cognitive disabilties who are unable to take the CSTs or CMA), and Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS). Prior to 2008-2009, the STAR also included the California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6), a national norm-referenced test. In 2008-2009 the CAT/6 was eliminated as a testing tool and was no longer administered in the state. California also administers the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which high school students must pass to graduate.
Using tests in the STAR program and the CAHSEE, California assigns each school and district an Academic Performance Index (API) rating ranging from 200 to 1000, with a statewide API goal of 800 for all schools. Based on the API scores, schools are assigned API growth targets. These performance metrics are also available for various student subgroups. Schools also receive rankings — one comparing similar schools and another comparing all schools in the state.
2008 was also the first year of administration of the California Modified Assessment (CMA). The CMA was first given only in grades 3 through 5 to a small percentage of students for whom both the CST and the CAPA were not appropriate. In 2009 the CMA was given in English-language arts to students in grades 3 through 8, in math to students in grades 3 through 7, and in science to students in grades 5 and 8.
The Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS) are given to Spanish-speaking students who have been enrolled in California schools for less than 12 months. These Spanish-speaking students in grades 2 through 11 take the STS in reading-language arts, and those in grades 2 through 7 take the STS in mathematics.
The Aprenda, La prueba de logros en español, Tercera edición (Aprenda 3) is a nationally norm-referenced achievement test of general academic knowledge in Spanish for Spanish-speaking English learners, given in grades 8 through 11. The STS will replace the Aprenda 3 for grades two through eleven beginning in 2009.
The test is divided into two sections: math and English/language arts. The math portion covers academic content standards for grades 6, 7 and algebra I, including: statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement, algebra and functions, math reasoning and geometry. California has decided that algebra is important for all students because it helps students to learn math reasoning - an important skill needed when students enter the workforce, whatever profession they may choose. The English/language arts portion includes the content standards through grade 10, including vocabulary, reading, and writing strategies and conventions. In addition to answering multiple-choice questions, students write an essay on a specific topic. To see sample questions on the CAHSEE, look for "released test questions" under Program Resources on the California Department of Education Web site.
The CAHSEE is a pass/fail test, which is not timed. Over 90 percent of the class of 2008 passed both portions of the CAHSEE. The California Department of Education provides multiple opportunities for test administration. School districts have some flexibility in setting test administration dates, offering testing dates in the fall, winter, and spring/early summer. You can see the testing schedule on the California Department of Education Web site.
Even though the CAHSEE is called an "exit exam," students take the exam in 10th grade so that those who aren't able to pass have time to receive assistance prior to graduation. Students who do not pass one or more sections of the test have up to five opportunities to retake the sections they have not yet passed. According to California law, schools must provide assistance in the form of tutoring, additional courses or summer school for students who are not showing progress toward passing the test. If students repeatedly fail the test, they can take the General Education Development Test (GED), or they can attend adult school classes to earn a diploma. Students who are 18 or older, regardless of whether or not they have a high school diploma, can attend a community college in California.
Special versions of the test are available to help students who have special learning challenges or whose first language is not English. For example, the test can be administered in Braille, audio CD and large print format, and when necessary schools will provide a scribe. Students with physical disabilities will be entitled to the same accommodations they have during classroom instruction. Students must pass the exam in English in order to graduate. However, test variations for English learners have been added to the CAHSEE. A school district can wait as long as two years after the student enrolled in a California public school to administer the test if the student needs more time to learn English.
Test score performance is important to schools because it is a principal factor in determining the Academic Performance Index (API) score, the accountability rating assigned to each school by the state of California. These ratings can have substantial consequences. Under-performing schools are given additional funds to encourage improvement and excellent schools may be eligible for additional acknowledgement.
It is important to be aware of both your child's test results and the overall accountability score for her school. If your child scores below proficient, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.