AYP, API, CELDT, STAR, diagnostic, achievement - the list seems endless! What list? The lexicon of testing terms that are used to evaluate students, schools and teachers in California. How can a parent pick through these terms in order to get an accurate picture of the quality of the educational program of a particular school? Can a parent even trust the scores from these tests? Remember that Crescendo Schools, a private operator of charter schools in Los Angeles actually used state test questions to prepare their students for the exam so their results would be higher.
First, we have to understand that the goals of No Child Left Behind are admirable - our expectations are that every child learns a set of specific academic standards each year - but the information about a child's progress is often cryptic and undecipherable to parents. Let's see if the process can be simplified a bit.
First, let's agree that no test can measure a child's future success in school or in life. Too many environmental factors - family, health, economic conditions - affect a student's progress in school to allow us to assume any test score is a true indicator of future success. Actually, a supportive, stable family is arguably one of the most important attributes of successful students. So, then, what DO test scores measure?
Tests can provide you information on the AYP (annual yearly progress) or API (academic progress index) of a school. The first shows how much improvement a school makes each year on test scores, the latter shows how close the school is to surpassing an academic goal set for schools by the government.
California uses the STAR test (Standardized Testing and Reporting) for these purposes. Another important test used in our schools is the CELDT (California English Language Development Test) which measures the progress of English Learners toward fluency in English.
The state and Federal governments tend to view these instruments as "achievement" tests - how much has a student learned each year and how does the student compare to others in their grade who took that test?
The problem is that different students learn at different rates and styles throughout their educational lives. They have spurts of inspiration and lulls of depression - that's part of growing up. Should a non-English student be expected to master skills as quickly as a fluent English speaker? Should a student who arrives in the fifth grade not speaking English be expected to master English as quickly as one who starts Kindergarten here?
Another, more educationally sound way to use test results is as a diagnostic tool. Teachers and parents can look at modern test results and know exactly which specific skills children have failed to master.
Then they can collegially design plans that assists children in learning those skills. Local schools are currently doing just that! On a weekly basis teachers meet together and collaboratively pour over test results then plan intervention programs that will teach small groups of students the skills that they "missed".
As educational technology improves, testing instruments are improving, providing parents and teachers more information for designing remedial programs that hel students meet California's standards.
California actually is contemplating the use of computerized testing and "branched testing" (when a child gets the correct response the test goes one way; when they make an incorrect answer, the test takes them in another direction). The use of this sort of technology provides schools many possible paths to educational success for children.
Think about this: Your doctor has you take a series of tests - blood, EKG MRI . When he shows you the results, does he say, "Sorry, but it looks like you've failed several of these tests. You're not leading a healthy life. I'm going to have to fail you!"?
All testing should serve as diagnostic tools helping adults design educational programs that fully meet the needs of all students.