Beginning in 1997, state policymakers in California acted aggressively to create and implement new. Their goal was to create measures by which both students and schools can be held accountable for academic performance as defined by the state’s new academic . They also since have made sure that the state’s testing system complies with the federal government’s expectations related to ESEA.
The STAR program
The cornerstone of California’s effort is the Standardized Testing and Reporting orprogram. Each summer, the state releases results for testing completed the previous spring. State, county, school district, and school results are available from many sources online.
California students in grades 2–11 participate in STAR. The centerpiece of the STAR program is the California Standards Tests (). These tests are based on the state’s academic content standards—what students are supposed to learn. The state has set performance levels for student results. Test scores are described as: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced.
Additional tests that are part of STAR include:Standards-Based Tests in Spanish (STS) which assess Spanish-speaking English learners who are receiving instruction in Spanish or who have been enrolled in a U.S. school for less than 12 months when testing begins. STS are Spanish-language, multiple-choice tests in reading/language arts and math for students in grades 2-11.
Based on their student test results, schools are given an Academic Performance Index () score and ranked. The API for elementary and middle schools is primarily composed of CST test results in English, math, science, and social science. The high school API is made up of primarily CST and California High School Exit Exam ( ) results.
CST and CAHSEE results are also used to determine whether schools have made Adequate Yearly Progress () under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Testing of Special Education students
Most Special Education students participate in STAR. In many cases, however, their individualized education programs () call for students to receive some extra assistance based on their disability. That may mean accommodations, such as a large-print version of an exam, that do not alter the test. Or it may require modifications, such as allowing the use of a calculator, which do alter the test.
The state also has alternative assessments for students with disabilities who cannot take the CSTs even with testing accommodations/modifications:
- California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) includes tests based on the building blocks of California's academic content standards for students in grades 2-11 who have significant cognitive disabilities.
- California Modified Assessment (CMA) includes tests based on modified achievement standards for students with disabilities in grades 3-8 whose IEP team has determined that neither the CAPA nor the CST is the appropriate assessment.
History of the STAR program
During the first three years of the STAR program, the focus was on a basic-skills, nationally normed, multiple-choice test. Initially the state used thebasic-skills test but switched to the California Achievement Tests, Sixth Edition Survey ( ) from 2002-03 through 2007-08. These tests were given to virtually all California public school students in grades 2 to 11, and the results formed the basis for the state's school accountability program until 2002.
But because it is developed for national use, a nationally normed test does not fully match the academic content standards adopted to guide school curriculum in California. (See Standards & Curriculum.) In 1999 the state began the second portion of the STAR program by creating additional ("augmented") test questions to measure student and school performance against the state’s new standards initially in English and mathematics and later in science and social science. By 2002, the California Standards Tests ( ) dominated the state’s testing system.
In 2000 the State Board of Education (SBE) began developing the five performance levels (far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced) for reporting the results of the CSTs, and first implemented them in 2001 with the standards test in English/language arts.
California High School Exit Exam
Following the lead of many other states, California has instituted a single, statewide high school exit exam. The test was piloted in the spring and fall of 2000. Its first administration to high school freshmen occurred in March 2001. Passing this test is required for high school graduation beginning with the class of 2006. The test only covers English language arts and math and is based on state standards. The English language arts section is aligned with standards for grades 9 and 10, and includes one writing exercise. The math portion covers standards for grades 6 and 7, and Algebra 1. Students first take the test in the spring of their sophomore year, but have multiple chances to pass before graduation. A student who passes one section of the test does not take that section again.
English Language Development
During the 2000–01 school year, California implemented a new statewide assessment to test the English proficiency and progress of students whose home language is not English. This test is based on California’s standards for English Language Development, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in 1999. The California English Language Development Test () covers only listening and speaking in kindergarten and first grade. The tests for students in grades 2-12 add reading and writing. These students also still take the STAR tests and—if applicable—the Standards-Based Test in Spanish (STS).
Additional standardized testing programs
California students also take standardized tests in physical education. In addition, after students are accepted for admission at a University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campus, they are generally required to take proficiency tests that measure their preparedness for college curriculum and determine course placement.
Beginning in 2004, high school juniors whose schools participate in an Early Assessment Program () can choose to take expanded versions of California Standards Tests in English language arts (including an essay) and math (Algebra II or Summative High School Mathematics) to determine college readiness. The results are used by the CSU system to exempt students from college placement tests or let students know that they need additional preparation during their senior year. Community colleges can also choose to use the EAP results to exempt students from placement testing.
California students also participate in some. These include college admissions (e.g., SAT, ACT) and placement tests for individual students. Some tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress ( ) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study ( ), provide national and international comparisons of overall student achievement. Increasingly, California lawmakers have also focused on Advanced Placement ( ) courses and testing. Beginning in 2000–01 they provided extra funding and incentives to encourage the state's high schools to offer these courses.