“In order to reduce the over-use and abuse of standardized tests, we need a brave solution from the federal government—such as a return to grade span testing. The sheer volume of tests and test prep that students must endure because of over-testing in America’s schools takes away from students’ time to learn and does nothing to close opportunity gaps,”
— NEA President Lily Eskelsen García
CTA believes effective assessment and testing – both aligned to state standards and used as diagnostic tools – can improve instruction and learning. Testing must be age and subject appropriate. It must be free from cultural, racial, gender, socio-economic and linguistic biases. Teachers must have the resources and professional development to help their students succeed. State and federal intervention in challenged schools must focus on assistance, not sanctions.
Meaningful educational accountability must assure teachers the resources and professional development needed to align curriculum, instruction and assessment with standards. Schools must have adequate materials and facilities. Special programs must assist teachers to help students who do not yet meet standards. Evaluations of the accountability system must rely on valid testing and provide results that are quickly available. Statewide tests should be used as a diagnostic tool, and evaluations of curriculum should rely on local and statewide assessments.
A valid system to measure student achievement is vital, including multiple measures to gather a complete picture of student achievement. Good testing and assessment stems from performance-based assessments including samples and/ or portfolios and observations of student work, student classroom performance, student conferences, and teacher- made or teacher-selected tests. Testing and assessment should be used as a diagnostic tool for the improvement of both instruction and learning; reflect what students know and can do; and must be free from cultural, racial, gender, socio- economic and linguistic biases. Standards and assessments must be grade and subject appropriate. Curriculum content, student performance standards, and student assessment programs must work together. Schools should not use student assessment results to evaluate bargaining unit members or determine compensation or employment status. Districts should train bargaining unit members on how best to use assessments to improve student achievement. Teachers must take part in developing, analyzing, and evaluating content standards, student performance standards, and student assessment programs.
Standardized Testing Of Students
Standardized achievement tests and/or assessments promote quality education when: content standards support effective curriculum, instruction, professional development and assessment; stakeholders determine high priority content standards, and assessments are appropriate for their intended purposes. Standardized tests are counterproductive when: they are mandatory for students in Grade 2 and below; they do not match students’ motor skills, academic development levels or language proficiency; they limit instructional time; they impede learning, threaten the quality of teaching and learning, and become the criterion for high-stakes decision-making
Consequences Of Accountability Systems
State and federal government intervention must provide assistance to challenged schools including collaboration, professional development, parent involvement, and high-quality assessment. Sanctions do not produce meaningful improvement. Interventions must provide sufficient support and resources to increase the likelihood of success. Schools and districts moving toward improvement must have sufficient time for changes to take effect, and schools must not be stigmatized. CTA specifically opposes sanctions, including taking over public schools, privatizing management, reconstituting schools or converting them to charters. State funds must help all students meet adopted standards.
Incentives to individual students, bargaining unit members, schools or districts based on test results constitutes unequal treatment.
Educational Excellence: Accountability Systems
The use of statewide longitudinal data should be limited and relevant to informing effective instructional strategies and student outcomes. Multiple measures of student achievement must be used along with any mandated state and federal assessment systems to show the progress of each student. The use of longitudinal diagnostic information about student learning shall be limited to decisions about instructional strategies, allocation of classroom resources, student placement, and professional development opportunities designed by educators.
The privacy rights of students, parents, educators and education support professionals must be protected in a statewide longitudinal education data system, including all privacy protections under state and federal law (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and protections under CALPADS and CALTIDES. The privacy rights of parents, students, educators and education support professionals must be maintained by all users of education data, including state and local officials, researchers, and policy makers.
Adequate funding and adequate time during the work day must be provided to allow educators and education support professionals appropriate and effective training in the use of longitudinal education data. Hardware and software needed for data use must be kept up-to-date and adequate technical support must be provided. Any governance structure, state or local, designed to manage education data must include CTA representatives as an integral part of that governance and oversight structure.
Education data systems should be subject to regular periodic review for the purpose of assuring that they are consistent with the goal of educating students and are valid, reliable and meaningful to the users of education data.
Educational Excellence: Student Growth Models
Academic growth models can best support teaching and learning when they are based on a set of common-sense principles and approaches to guide instruction as they describe – not measure – the progress of students. Growth models use multiple indicators to evaluate, quantify, and describe a finite set of student data in multiple ways. Multiple indicators do not mean more testing.
An academic growth model is a description of the student’s performance on state or local assessments aligned to the standards; is a clear, usable report to parents; provides coherent and developmentally appropriate information in a timely manner; and is not used alone or in conjunction with data from the student achievement database for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or groups of teachers.
Pre K-12 educators must lead the process of creating the growth model including development, piloting, implementation and revision.
News and Resources for Educators
Latest information about the new generation of English language arts/literacy and mathematics assessments from California Department of Education: Smarter Balanced Assessment System
Note for Educators: The California Code of Regulations prohibits any program of specific preparation for the statewide pupil assessment program or a particular test used therein. Test release questions should not be used to develop practice tests that would mimic or parallel state tests, nor should they be used for teaching or drilling students only on the released items.
— Title 5, Section 854 (a.) based on California Education Code, Section 60611.
Opting-Out of Testing
Contrary to claims by the testing industry, teachers and parents support testing – as long as the testing is fair and in alignment with the state standards and with what is being taught in the classroom. For many years, students have been tested in subjects not yet taught in class; English-language learners are expected to take tests in English; and, Special Education students are subjected to the same tests as students in regular classrooms.
Parents understandably want information on how to opt-out of testing.
Questions about opting-out of testing? View resources from CTA.
Resources for Parents
Learn more and find resources below about tests for students in California.
California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System
California’s statewide student assessment system.
English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC)
California’s statewide test for English language proficiency.
Additional Resources for Educators and Parents
Resources from CTA to help educators and parents navigate testing for students.
Parents play a vital role in helping their children to succeed on standardized tests. You can help make your child’s test-taking experience a successful one.
Put children at ease by discussing your own experiences with taking tests. If you were nervous or anxious, talk about it.
Let them know those feelings are normal.
Be aware of the specific days tests will be given. Ask your child how the testing sessions are going. Offer encouragement.
Stress the importance of listening to test directions and following them carefully. Provide practice activities at home such as following a recipe or reading and answering questions about a story.
Make sure your children go to bed early every night and at the same time every night, especially on the night before testing. Encourage healthy eating, rest, and exercise. Most standardized testing is given over a three- or four-day period.
Ask your child’s teacher or a schedule and make sure your child attends school on those days.
Meet with your child’s teachers to discuss the results. If your child had difficulty in specific areas, ask teachers for suggestions in the form of homework assignments, techniques, and specific material.
Remember, your child’s score on a standardized test is only one measure of what your child knows. Most schools use multiple measures, including student projects, homework, portfolios, chapter tests and oral reports.
There are ways you can prepare your students to do well on standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, AP tests, Golden State Exam, and, eventually, the High School Exit Exam. Student performance improves when students practice under conditions that are similar to those of the actual test.
Tips for Teachers
Simulate the test-taking situation, providing conditions that are almost equivalent to those of the actual test. Have a dress rehearsal.
Begin teaching test-taking skills well in advance of the test date .
Take time to discuss with students the general nature and purpose of standardized tests.
After instruction in a number of skills, have children take practice tests to combine the use of skills and to ensure maximum transfer to a testing situation. Practice materials should match the format of the standardized test as closely as possible . You don’t have to invent your own materials. Commercial material is available that can be purchased using school site funds.
Practice using time limits under which children must complete a specified amount of work . If students have difficulty at first, start with untimed practice items. Gradually decrease the time.
Practice using test item formats that may differ from exercises found in students’ instructional materials. Teach the style and format of the tests .
After each practice session, discuss with students any problems they had with specific items or the test-taking process and conditions. Talk about why some answers were correct and others were not.
Tips for Students
Tell students to read and follow test directions carefully. Older students should listen for information on time limits and penalties for guessing.
Students should record responses in the designated manner.
Use time efficiently. Students should answer first those items that they can answer quickly.
Tell students to take risks and guess if there is no penalty for incorrect responses.
Students should read all answers before choosing the “best” answer.
They should feel free to change an answer after considering new information.
The student data from the STAR program and other assessments help answer the question: “What can I do next to improve instruction?” Here are five steps that teachers can take as individuals or in self-selected curriculum work groups:
Review assessment reports and other data to develop an understanding of the information and what it means.
Compare the concepts and skills that will be tested and augment with those covered by your school’s curriculum. If they are different, you will have to do something about the gaps. For example, use new materials or additional lessons.
Review assessment results in relation to other academic achievement data (e.g.; grades, class test scores). Identify content areas that show similar and different results.
Analyze the similarities and differences between assessment results and other achievement data.
Using the analysis of similarities and differences, develop strategies to modify curriculum, instruction, and assessment to improve student learning at your school.
[Adapted from the California Department of Education]
Glossary of Frequently Used Terms in Testing
Achievement Test: A standarized test that measures how much students have learned in a given context.
Aptitude Test: Test designed to measure general abilities and to predict future performance.
Benchmark: Level of performance expected in a given subject and at a given grade. A benchmark is usually a set measurement point used to assess whether students are progressing toward a specific goal.
Bias: A lack of objectivity, fairness, or impartiality. Standardized tests are supposed to be free from bias.
Criterion-referenced test: A comparison of student performance to a predetermined cut score that will determine whether a student understands a particular concept or has a particular skill. For example, students who score at the criterion level of 90% correct on a test of two-digit by three-digit multiplication might be determined to have mastered that skill.
Disaggregated data: Information that has been sorted by special populations (e.g., ethnicity, socio-economic status, language proficiency, or other factors).
Formative assessment: Ongoing, diagnostic assessment providing information to guide instruction and improve student performance.
Multiple measures: Using more than one measurement tool to determine individual student performance for reading/language arts and mathematics in at least one grade level for each grade span (3-5, 6-9, and 10-12).
Norm-referenced test: Test whose items have been given to a large, representative sample of students. It rates student performance against the performance of other students. Performance is usually reported as a percentile score.
Performance test: Test that requires the student to perform a task rather than choose a correct response. For example, a student might be asked to develop a monthly school lunch menu to demonstrate his or her understanding of nutrition requirements.
Portfolio: Purposeful or systematic collection of selected student work and student self-assessments developed over time, gathered to demonstrate and evaluate progress and achievement in learning.
Quartiles: Distribution of scores into four equal parts corresponding to the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile ranks.
Standardized test: Test that is usually prepared commercially for nationwide use to provide accurate and meaningful information on students. Level of performance relative to others at their age or grade level (e.g. Scholastic Achievement Test)
STAR: (Standarized Testing and Reporting Program), the statewide assessment program testing all California students in grades 2-11
Summative assessment: Culminating assessment for a unit, grade level, or course of study providing a status report on mastery or degree of proficiency according to identified content standards.
Common Core State Standards
Common Core State Standards puts teachers back in control of crafting and tailoring the education of their students. Critical thinking skills can now be part of our students’ educational foundation, and we can decide how to best teach that. And while we support the Standards, we do not support the high-stakes testing that some want to bring along with them. We believe that we cannot test simply for the sake of testing.
Student assessments must be thoughtful in their purpose and must include both formative and summative pieces so that learning is assessed throughout the year. This includes educators creating authentic, classroom-based curriculum and assessments along with high quality professional development that is directed by educators.
Resource Highlight: Understanding Proficiency, Learning from student work on performance tasks.