Parents May Opt Out of Testing

Testing

For the past month, I’ve been discussing opting out of the final STAR Enterprise assessment of the year with both my daughter’s principal and later with Dr. Cathy McNeal, whose title is Director of Research and Development but who is really is the new director of testing in the district. It hasn’t been a fun, or even a particularly polite (on the part of Dr. McNeal) discussion, but it has been eye-opening to see the level of disdain that our district has for parents who dare to ask questions about district practices.

It isn’t just the superintendent who refuses to have discussions with parents; he’s passed this practice on down to his district staff as well. In the end, thanks to a principal caring more about the students than a “policy,” we were able to get things resolved.

Here’s the story so far.

On March 30th, I wrote a post about the cheating scandals in Atlanta and pointed out how we’re ripe for just a scandal here.

WAFF contacted me on Tuesday of that week wanting to do a story about potential cheating here in Huntsville. I was told that the district was refusing to discuss the possibility, and that they wanted to run a story about it anyway.

I agreed to be interviewed about the possibility of cheating, and the end result of the interview was that the district made Lee Simmons a “curriculum specialist” with ties to Westlawn and the “phenomenal” growth there available to be interviewed. She claimed that cheating on the STAR test was “virtually impossible,” as there would be 30 different screens with 30 different questions all at the same time.

Except, of course, that doesn’t make cheating “virtually impossible” at all. All a teacher needs to do to improve STAR test scores in her classroom is assist the weakest student with the test, or, as has been documented, give the student the same test, every week, until they begin to improve.

Ms. Simmons seems to be a dedicated teacher, but she’s incorrect when she claims that cheating or modifying scores is “virtually impossible.” There are dozens of ways it could be done.

This is one of the reasons why I decided it was time for my child to opt out.

Opt Out: Start With The Principal

I like and appreciate Dr. Summerville. Overall, I believe that she has done a good job in an impossible situation, and it would seem that the Alabama PTA agrees as she was just named Principal of the Year.

As I know that teachers have absolutely no input or control on what assessments occur in their rooms any more (and this is just the beginning of the issue, isn’t it?), I went to Dr. Summerville to discuss my daughter opting out of the fourth time she’s taken the STAR Enterprise tests this year. That’s right, my girl, just like every other child in this district, has taken the STAR test three times already. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15% of the students in the district take the STAR test every single week until they begin to show improvement on the test.

And that’s another issue that I have with this test. Rather than spending more time reading and working harder on understanding mathematical concepts, the district’s solution to a student who doesn’t show enough “growth” on the STAR test is to give that student the STAR test again.

And again.

And again.

We’ve been in school for about 28 weeks so far. Some of our students, the students who need the most help and assistance with the reading and math, have taken at least part of the STAR test each week during those 28 weeks.

We test until the results are where the superintendent wants them to be because that’s his understanding of what education is all about.

I’m sorry, but how, exactly, does this benefit the child who is struggling? How does it benefit the child who isn’t struggling when the teacher’s attention is entirely focused on administering a test to a group of students for the 15th time?

And so I asked that my daughter be allowed to opt out of the final STAR Enterprise assessment of the year because it is not improving her educational experience.

I was informed by Dr. Summerville, in a generous and caring way I might add, that she had been informed that this was not a possibility.

As our principals now have nearly as little influence on the direction of their schools as our teachers do on the direction of their classrooms, I thanked Dr. Summerville for her time and took my case to the person who said no: Dr. Cathy McNeal.

Opt Out: The District “Responds”

After informing Dr. Summerville that I would pursue this discussion with the district, I emailed Dr. McNeal to ask her to allow my daughter to opt out of the final STAR Enterprise test.

On April 9th, I wrote Dr. McNeal expressing my concerns with my daughter taking the STAR Enterprise test:

Dr. McNeal,

I’m Russell Winn. As I suspect you are aware, I have recently met with Dr. Summerville, my daughter’s principal at Mt. Gap, to request that she be allowed to opt out of the final STAR Enterprises test of the year. I have been told that this is not possible, but I have not received any justification for this position which disregards parental concerns over the education of a child.

I am requesting that my daughter be allowed to opt out for the following reasons:

As far as I have been able to determine, there is zero educational benefit to [my daughter] in taking this test again as she has taken it at least three times already this year (not counting the time that has been spent preparing her for this exam). I still hold this view despite speaking with Dr. Summerville for over an hour on Monday about this. In fact, I am now even more convinced that my daughter is not benefiting educationally from taking this test.

Thus, I am again asking that my daughter not waste her time taking the STAR Enterprise test any further this year, and I am requesting an explanation of your decision to exclude parental wishes from the educational process.

I would appreciate receiving this information in writing from you, but I am also willing to meet with you if you so desire.

My daughter is currently scheduled to take the STAR test during the week of April 29 – May 3 [The test has been moved up to April 24-25 due to a test scheduling issue. Yes, we test so often at the end of the school year that we have difficulty scheduling everything]. I would appreciate reaching some resolution on this matter before that time.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Russell Winn
256-457-2887

On April 10th, which was a fairly rapid response for someone working in the central office, Dr. McNeal responded:

The Alabama State Department of Education prescribed that a formative assessment be administered in all schools and school districts during the 2012-13 school year. The formative assessment is relevant in assessing students and preparing them for Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Standards in Kindergarten through Grade 12. The STAR Enterprise formative assessment platform is a valid measurement of the curriculum and provides a pacing guide for each individual student’s learning progression. Opting out of the mandated curriculum is not a choice.

Cathy C. McNeal, Ed.D.
Director, Research and Development
Huntsville City Schools
256 428 6966
mary.mcneal@hsv-k12.org

Notice, the district’s first response to my request for my daughter to opt out was to blame the Alabama State Department of Education, and to imply that ALSDE required that students take the STAR test as the formative assessment that the teacher and district uses to determine where a student is as the school year progresses.

Formative/Summative Assessment

There are two basic types of assessment that teachers use. Both are useful and important to determining a student’s mastery of the material. The kind that most of us are familiar with is known as Summative Assessment. This is the test that is given once instruction has ended to determine mastery of the material. Formative Assessments are given before instruction on the material has ended to see if the student is mastering the material.

Think of the two like this:

Summative assessment is the spelling test that is given on the spelling words at the end of the week. The teacher gives out words at the beginning of the week for the student to learn to spell. The test on Friday where the teacher calls out a word, and the student writes the word (spelling it correctly) on a sheet a paper is a summative assessment. If the student spells the word correctly, they pass.

Formative assessment in this scenario would be the homework that a teacher gives to the student to assist learning the words before the summative assessment on Friday. Let’s say that the teacher assigns the students sentences to write with the spelling words for homework. When the student turns in that homework the next day, the teacher can assess formatively how well the student understands the word and whether or not the student is learning to spell the word correctly. The homework may, or may not, be graded. The purpose of a formative assessment is to inform the teacher how well the student is mastering the material. If a student is struggling on a formative assessment, ideally, the teacher will notice and adjust her or his instruction to assist that child in mastering the material before the summative assessment is given on Friday.

I say ideally for one reason: in a classroom with 27 third graders, one teacher has a difficult time individualizing instruction to keep both the student who is mastering the words and the student who is not engaged.

Nothing can be individualized 27 times.

And a standardized test, like the STAR Enterprise test, is the exact opposite of individualized instruction.

Sure it shows that the student is reading on a 9th grade or 2nd grade level, but when one teacher has a class of 27 students all reading at different levels as varied as seven separate grades, where is most of the attention going to go?

It’s going to go to the student reading below grade level because that’s how the teacher is being evaluated: by the weakest student in the class.

And will the teacher be allowed to use her training and expertise to help that struggling student? No. There just isn’t time because the student has to take the STAR test again at the end of the week.

Passing the Buck

You’re starting to notice a pattern here, aren’t you? No one wants to take responsibility for telling a parent, especially a parent who is such a trouble-maker like me, no. So, let’s blame the other guy.

Dr. McNeal, following Dr. Wardynski’s lead on April 4th decided to call the STAR Enterprise test a “state mandated test.” She, like Dr. Wardynski before her, has absolutely no evidence to support this claim.

Here’ s what the superintendent had to say about me and the STAR test on the 4th:

First, there’s what I would call idol debate. Um, there’s a “watchdog” apparently who thinks we shouldn’t do STAR testing. We don’t have a choice. Formative testing is part of the state now. You’re either going to do GlobalScholar or some other formative assessment. And we do STAR. We like it best. But if we weren’t doing STAR, we’d be doing GlobalScholar or something else. A debate about formative assessment’s not even a debate.

You may watch his comments below:

The superintendent likes to make claims that sound good, but for which he offers no evidence, and which, as it turns out, simply aren’t true.

Yes, the state does what districts to perform formative assessment. That’s completely true. Guess what, that’s been completely true since long before the superintendent even knew that he wanted to be a superintendent.

As I explained above, formative assessment can be as specific as a homework assignment.

What the state does not require, despite Wardynski’s claims to the contrary, is standardized formative testing. Neither does the state require the use of STAR Enterprise’s tests.

The state might require this at some point in the future, but it is not required now. Either our superintendent doesn’t know what he’s talking about (which is highly possible), or he was exaggerating what is currently required by the state.

Here’s a copy of a memo that was posted to the ALSDE site in September 10, 2010 that lists the requirements that a local district (LEA) should follow if, and only if the local districts chooses to administer formative testing like the STAR Enterprise test. At the writing of this memo, the state does not require formative testing such as the STAR test.

Since much changes in two and a half years, is there anything more current than this on the ALSDE site? Why yes, there is. On July 31, 2012, Dr. Sherill Parris issued another memo about formative, interim, and benchmark assessment. It is, in fact, the only official mention of formative, interim and benchmark assessment on the site that is in a directive format. The memo is entitled: Statewide Formative Assessment, and the opening paragraph reads:

Most, if not all, of you have heard that the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) will be providing a statewide option for formative, interim, and benchmark assessments beginning August 2012. Through a rigorous, competitive application process, GlobalScholar, Inc, was determined to best fit the needs of what our state is attempting to accomplish.

You’ll note the use of the word “option” in this paragraph. And you’ll notice the complete absence of any indication that formative assessment is now a state requirement. Guess what, if you bother to read the totality of the memo, not once will you find any indication that the state currently requires local districts to perform formative assessments.

(Oh, and this is a thought for another time, but can someone explain to me why we’re paying nearly half a million dollars a year to Resnaissance Learning for something that the state would give us for free?)

Finally, if you read your 2012-2013 Student-Parent Handbook, you’ll find on page 21 that the STAR test is listed as a “District mandated” test. It is specifically not listed as a “State mandated” test. The handbook also states:

The HCS Mandated Assessment Program for the school year 2012-13 will include:

Grades: 1-12 STAR Enterprise Math and Reading (3 to 4 benchmarks during the school year) STAR Enterprise Math and Reading Growth percentile will be included as a percentage of the student’s grade each 9 weeks for those students who show growth.

The handbook claims that this is a district mandated test that will be required “3 to 4 benchmarks during the school year.”

The state doesn’t currently require local districts to do formative assessment via a standardized tool such as the STAR Enterprise test. The superintendent and Dr. McNeal are mistaken if and when they claim that the state requires this type of formative assessment.

It’s Time To Opt Out

After all this round about, this “idol debate” as the superintendent likes to claim, I finally  arrived at a few conclusions:

  1. The District is not using the STAR Enterprise test to actually perform formative assessment on my daughter. My daughter has show growth in all three of the assessments she took this year, and yet despite the district’s claims in the 2012-2013 Student-Parent Handbook quoted above that the growth percentile “will be included as a percentage of the student’s grade each 9 weeks for those students who show growth,” my daughter’s “growth” has not be included as a percentage of her 9 weeks grade. (In fact, when I asked about this, no one in the district seemed to know this was included in the handbook. Perhaps we should make the district sign the handbook showing that they’ve read it next year.) In other words, there is no evidence that the STAR test is impacting my daughter’s grades.
  2. The STAR Enterprise test has not been used to modify my daughter’s education this year. My daughter is in a classroom with 27 other third graders and one teacher. This class was specifically designed to include both higher and lower performing students in the same room so that neither (yep, there are only two 3rd grade classrooms at Mt. Gap despite there having been three 2nd grade classrooms a year ago) third grade teacher has a class of just higher or lower performing students. Even if the district were pushing teachers to actually use the data found in this assessment in any way other than to cut and paste the information onto another report they’re required to fill out, (yes, that is exactly what happens with the report showing what your child “knows”), there would be no physical way a single teacher could individualize instruction for 27 3rd graders in a single class. It is not possible.
  3. The STAR Enterprise test’s only purpose is to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools. The test doesn’t exist to help your child. It exists to abuse your child’s teacher. That’s all.

As such, I decided, after talking with my daughter and wife, that our girl should choose to opt out of the fourth and hopefully final STAR Enterprise test of the year.

The District Has Rights Because We Say So

When I informed Dr. McNeal of my decision she wrote (on April 11, 2013) the following:

The Huntsville City School System through its superintendent has the right to mandate tests.

That’s right, Dr. McNeal was convinced that despite my telling her that I do not want my daughter to waste her time taking another test that offers her zero educational benefit, that she would assert the rights of the district and the superintendent to overrule my wishes as my daughter’s parent.

In response to this assertion of district rights, I wrote the following:

I find it interesting that you choose to close by asserting the rights of the district and the superintendent, Dr. McNeal. You may be correct when you claim that “The Huntsville City School System through its superintendent has the right to mandate tests.” You haven’t actually provided any evidence of this, but you may be correct.

However, the rights of the parent to be an active participant or “partner” (as the student-parent handbook calls us), in my child’s educational process, are not subsumed to the rights of the superintendent or the district.

Parental rights take precedence over the superintendent’s rights when it comes to the education of my daughter. He does not have the right to force my daughter do to something that I will not allow her to do, including testing.

Dr. McNeal, I have attempted to address this in a respectful way that acknowledges that you (as a representative of the district) and I are partners in my daughter’s education. I have asked that my daughter be allowed to opt-out of the final STAR benchmark of the year. I have provided with you my reasons and justifications for requesting this. I have followed up by asking for evidence that supports your claims that this is a state mandated test.

You have responded by asserting that the rights of the district outweigh my rights as a parent when it comes to my child’s education.

Are you certain that you do not wish to reconsider this position?

I remain interested in discussing this with you further. If you can offer me a convincing justification that my daughter’s education will benefit from taking this assessment, I will reconsider my position. So far your response has amounted to “because we say so,” and frankly, that response is inadequate.

At the present time, my daughter, XXXXXXXX, does not have permission to participate in the STAR Enterprise reading and math benchmark assessments for the remainder of the 2012-2013 school year.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Russell

Russell Winn
256-457-2887

As I would imagine it is needless to say, Dr. McNeal offered no convincing justification that my daughter’s education would benefit. She would once again simply offer the reasoning that we could not opt-out of the test simply because the district “says so.”

Cutting and Pasting Responses

A week later, I wrote Dr. McNeal back again to see if there had been any change in her opinion concerning my request that my daughter be allowed to opt out of the STAR test that she’s already taken three times.

Rather than engage me in an honest discussion, Dr. McNeal chose to basically cut and paste her response to me from an earlier email assuming, I suppose, that I had not responded to this email once already. So much for being partners with our schools in education.

She wrote, for a second time:

As stated in the original April 10, 2013 e-mail response to this request:

The Alabama State Department of Education prescribed  that a formative assessment be administered in all schools and school districts during the 2012-13 school year.  The formative assessment is relevant in assessing students and preparing them for Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Standards in Kindergarten through Grade 12.  The STAR Enterprise formative assessment platform is a valid measurement of  the curriculum and provides a pacing guide for each individual student’s learning progression.   Opting out of the mandated curriculum is not a choice.

As stated in the Huntsville City Schools Student Handbook 2012-13 pg. 21 and referred to in your e-mail dated April 11, 2103:

STATE MANDATED ASSESSMENT PROGRAM 2012-2013

The State Mandated Assessment Program for the school year 2012-2013 will include:

Grade(s) Assessment

  • 3-8 Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test + (ARMT+)
  • 5 & 7 Alabama Science Assessment Grade 5 and Grade 7
  • 3-8 & 11 Alabama Alternate Assessment
  • 3-12 ACCESS for Limited English Proficient (LEP)
  • 8 EXPLORE
  • 10 PLAN
  • 9-12 Alabama High School Graduation Exam (Fall, Mid Year, Spring, Summer)
    • *No student takes all the tests listed above, nor is all day devoted to testing on the specified number of days.

 The possession of a digital device (including but not limited to cell phones, MP3 players, cameras, or

  • other telecommunication devices capable of capturing or relaying information) is strictly prohibited during

the administration of a secure test. If a student is observed in possession of a digital device during the

administration of a secure test, the device will be confiscated.

 If a student is observed using a digital device during the administration of a secure test, testing for the

student will cease, the device will be confiscated and is subject to search, the student will be dismissed

from testing, and the student’s test will be invalidated.

HCS MANDATED ASSESSMENT PROGRAM 2012-13

The HCS Mandated Assessment Program for the school year 2012-13 will include:

Grade(s) Assessment

  • 1 – 12 STAR Enterprise Math and Reading (3 to 4 benchmarks during the school year)
    • STAR Enterprise Math and Reading Growth percentile will be included as a percentage of the student’s

grade each 9 weeks for those students that show growth.

  • P – 1 STAR Early Literacy (4 benchmarks during the school year)
  • 9 – 12 ACT QualityCore End-of-Course Assessment for the following classes:
    • English 9 English 10 English 11 English 12
    • Algebra I Algebra II Geometry PreCalculus
    • Biology Chemistry Physics U.S. History.
    • The QualityCore grade will be included as a percentage of the student’s final grade for the course for

those students that show growth

Cathy C. McNeal, Ed.D.

Director, Research and Development

Huntsville City Schools

256 428 6966

mary.mcneal@hsv-k12.org

Honestly, why would someone even bother cutting a pasting a previous response that had already been debated? But since she did, I wrote her and my daughter’s principal on final time asking them to allow my daughter to opt out of the fourth and hopefully final STAR Enterprise test of the year.

The district is nothing if not repetitive.

It seemed that the question would be decided on the day of testing, which had been scheduled for the week of April 29th.

The School Changes Its Mind About Trumping Parental Rights

When my daughter told me on Friday, April 19th that the school had moved the STAR Enterprise test dates up a week, and that they would happen tomorrow and Thursday rather than next week, I again wrote to my daughter’s principal to confirm.

She chose to respond by calling me back that evening. During our brief and friendly conversation, Dr. Summerville told me that my daughter would be allowed to opt out of the final STAR Enterprise test this year. She didn’t want to “make a big deal about this” and that she didn’t want me to check my girl out of school.

It is decisions like this one that help to explain why she is the PTA Principal of the Year this year. It’s a shame that we don’t have more educators like or (or more educators in general) at the district level. They could learn a lot from watching Dr. Summerville.

So after a month of passing the buck, after a month of the district leadership–including Dr. Wardynski as you saw above–claiming that they don’t have any control over what tests our kids are forced to take by the state, after a month of the district claiming that their rights supersede a parent’s rights to determine what is best for their own child, the school decided to do the right thing.

For this I am grateful. I only wish it hadn’t take so long.

The first STAR test is scheduled to be administered tomorrow with the second to follow on Thursday. I am hopeful that the school will keep its word and not attempt to test my daughter.

The TakeAway

So what does all of this mean for you and your student?

First: I am not suggesting that you opt your child out of any test based solely on my experiences. If you believe that your child is benefitting from taking a test multiple times, then you shouldn’t do a thing. Allow the district to administer the test to your child.

I am not attempting to tell you what is right for your child. I am simply relaying to you the processes that I have followed with this district.

Second: Should you decide that your child should opt out, you cannot take “no” for an answer. They will tell you no. They will tell you that if you keep your child home on testing day, that the test will simply be administered upon their return. They will tell you that the state mandates the test. They will tell you that the district mandates the test. They will tell you that the district’s rights to test your child out weigh your rights and responsibilities as the child’s parent.

Simply put, unless you have been ruled unfit to be the legal guardian of a child, no one has the right to force your child to do anything that you do not wish for your child to do.

Please remember, I am a teacher. I am not a lawyer. If you want or need legal advice, please hire a lawyer. All I am relaying here are what I believe to be true. Now, I am, of course, convinced I’m right on this matter, and I believe that the school has finally agreed to not test my daughter supports that idea. But you should make up your on mind on the matter.

Tomorrow will mark our first step to taking back our schools. The superintendent, the board of education and the district leadership like to believe that this is their school system. Every time Dr. Wardynski makes an executive decision, as he is doing with the rezoning issue, he demonstrates once again that the public doesn’t matter in public schools in his mind.

This is our district, not his. And opting out of this abusive, waste of time test, is a good way to show him this.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

39 Comments

  1. I don’t get it. They don’t give you justification for forcing your child to take the test, and they don’t give you justification for their change of heart. This organization is the worst ever on communication.

    1. Of course not. Think of the boot/ant analogy from the Avengers.

      Also it remains to be seen if they will, in fact, honor their word in this matter.

  2. “The STAR Enterprise test’s only purpose is to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools. The test doesn’t exist to help your child. It exists to abuse your child’s teacher. That’s all.”

    While this is very true, I have to take some issue with your final conclusion. While you are correct in asserting the STAR test does not help children and that it is used to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools (though it doesn’t do a good job of it and may actually be more harmful than good but that is a point to be discussed at length and not in an aside)…..IT ALSO MAKES SOME PEOPLE A LOT OF MONEY…and I would say that is the primary reason it exists, because some people look at children and they see dollar signs…

    1. I stand corrected. It was about 1:45 in the am when that conclusion was being drawn. 🙂

      Yep, much money is involved here. Particularly since the state is giving away a similar assessment FOR FREE.

      From 9/2011 thru 12/2012 the district paid Renaissance Learning Inc. $517,759.37.

  3. Has the following question been posed directly to the BOE on a Thursday night: If we can accomplish the same goals through a state administered test that costs nothing, why are we paying Renaissance Learning over half a million dollars for it?

  4. Just to pass along, my son came home all excited one day not long ago about a few new websites that they were beginning to use in class, so of course I asked all about them: some were for actual learning, some were for learning, but included a chat room and that’s all the kids used!, but one website was strictly to help the kids improve their test scores on the STAR tests!!! I know that these tests are doing nothing for my son, how can they when he is always scoring 4-5 grade levels above his current grade? Even his teacher said not to put anything into the test results!

  5. I’d ask if my child would opt out but I know what would happen. Same thing that happened with the new computer policy. I specifically told the principal that my child would NOT sign. Take his computer, do whatever, but he would not sign the new policy. She assured me that they had no intention of passing out the new policy, but if that changed, he would not sign it. They changed, he was forced to sign it. I have no doubt they’d tell me I could opt out, and he would be given the test.

  6. Please tell me if anyone has heard about this. My son came home today after taking yet another STAR test and told me that his teacher informed the class that if students do not show improvement by (I think he said 40%) over their previous test score, that they would have to take a remedial course on their computer to prepare them for the next STAR test (a school board directive). This course is on “successmaker.net” and of course is produced and sold to schools by none other than Pearson. He was also told that students would have to do this for 20 minutes a day and their progress is logged! I have already fired off an email to this teacher requesting more information about it. I laughed and told my son not to worry about it, he will NEVER have to take it. SO not only have teachers reduced actual “teaching,” but now they are having to add more test preparation time onto the kids’ schedules. I don’t think my son could make this stuff up, so I’m treating it as fact for now until I speak or correspond with a teacher in the school. Anyone else hear anything similar to this?

    1. I’ve seen students sitting in the hall with a teacher/waiting for that program to load before. After a 30 minute period, it still would load.

      Wonder if that time counted toward his total?

    2. Yes teachers were notified that district office was requiring the reading coaches to enroll all students not showing a certain % of growth and that each student was to spend 20 minutes a day and that teacher classes would be monitored for use . They were also instructed to use write to learn a % of the day and again it would be monitored

  7. When I was teaching third grade nearly 10 years ago, the district I worked for also used STAR testing, but it was only one small piece of our “assessment pie”, so to say. The most useful information was usually the reading level it provided, which I could then use to encourage students to choose books independently within their particular reading range. Again, it was only one SMALL piece of information regarding a student’s progress. There are so many factors that affect how a child might perform on any given day, that you cannot rely on only four calendar days a year (the four official benchmark days), for evaluation. I take issue over how our district has chosen this one test as the ONLY way they assess growth. This raises another problem- what about the students who are presently above grade level? If a third grader, reading on a 7th grade level, takes the test for the fourth time and continues on the 7th grade level- or even drops to 6th grade- how is that managed on the overall results showing growth? Could that teacher be penalized because forward progress was not made, even though the child, academically, is way ahead already? (reminds me of some of the problems associated with the no child left behind ayp)

  8. Mom…the answer is YES! If you are reading way above your current level and score slightly lower or the same on the subsequent test, you have shown little or no progress and thus the teacher is pinged. Regarding the “No child left behind” policy….I don’t want to see the slower children dropped off the radar, however I am adamently against slowing down the high achievers in the class in favor of “bringing up the rear.” That is not how it works in real life out there in the working world, and we certainly should not be pulling back on the reigns of those kids who want to sprint through the education process. Shame on this administration for how they are handling our students.

  9. My kids take the star next week. As far as I can tell, no other parent is interested in opting out. My kids both score high on the test. I’m interested in a movement to opt out, but me alone doing it this year just screws up the teacher and doesn’t help my child.

  10. Teachers have finally started to reach their benchmark percentage goals so now they are being told their SGP is not high enough. We are all being set up to fail! We finally reached the goal we are told to reach just to have them change it to something we have never been told about.

    Also, I know this has nothing to do with STAR, but I thought people may want to know teachers have been told they can not retain anyone, so when we are told how great this new curriculum has helped with the number of detentions it is SO not true!

  11. Can our PTA’s PLEASE set-up a conference and invite a couple of teachers to come talk to the group? I want to learn more about how badly they are being treated. It’s time to stop being so darn complacent around here!

  12. Frustrated Parent — It’ll never happen. First, teachers would never be allowed to publicly complain about what is going on. Second, the PTAs, in my experience, are dominated by wonderfully optimistic/hopelessly naive (take your pick) backers of the current regime. When I attended a meeting of PTA presidents earlier this school year, the main thing I kept hearing was that parents needed to stop being so critical.

  13. I ran into someone last week who told me that at her child’s school, the principal has scheduled Field Day for the day after testing ends. The principal told the school that if any child does not show up for testing but then comes to Field Day, then the entire school will have to sit inside and miss part of FIeld Day while that child/children are tested. This parent felt like she was being blackmailed into sending her child to school for the testing.

    I just cannot understand why the testing has to be such a huge deal for the city. At our school (not HCS), the children take one standardized test at the end of the year – not several tests several times throughout the year. The children are encouraged to do well, but there is no stress involved. The teachers give the test at their own pace. The scores are not put up on the wall. There is no competition. The teachers do not even seem concerned about the scores, because they already know what the children have learned. You can do testing the right way, and it doesn’t interfere at all with the school year. The city schools seem to be straying farther and farther from what education should be, and it is so sad for the children caught in it.

    1. She was absolutely being blackmailed, and she should publicly call that principal out for doing so. The district has rules against bullying.

      It’s total BS. If a student is out sick one day, she will notrequire the entire school to sit inside on field day. I’d suggest calling her bluff, but I’d certainly understand why she might not want to.

      A person who will threaten a child does not deserve to be a principal. She should be fired.

  14. I was finishing my Educate Alabama evidence summary when I notice at the left side of the screen there is a statement that say “Alabama does not link student achievement data to teacher or leader evaluation”. I guess this applies to everyone but Huntsville City School teachers. My students did not do well on the STAR test today. I am now afraid of what happens next.

  15. Here is an excerpt explaining how a STAR test works: “Students use computers to take the STAR tests. The computer selects the first test question based on a student’s age, grade placement, or previous performance on the STAR test. Using the student’s correct or incorrect answer, the computer selects the next test question. If the student answers correctly, the next question will be more difficult; if the student’s answer is incorrect, the next question will be easier. With each answer, the computer adapts to the student’s ability. Selecting questions that are tailored to each student’s ability allows for a test that is efficient, accurate, and motivational.” So, what exactly are we testing here? If the test is dynamically modified to the student’s accuracy of responses, then it would appear that all the students are being tested according to different scales and levels of difficulty. And then we are going to take these “results” and grade the effectiveness of the teachers? The inmates are clearly running the asylum here. This is appearing to me to be one of the most disturbing and corrupt school administrations I have ever been associated with. Will be looking to move to Madison before the next school year. Tired and fed up with the clowns who run the BOE.

  16. I had to laugh the other day. A friend was talking about her middle school son’s performance on one of the STAR tests. Apparently he had a dramatic reduction in his score. He had told her that he was going to ask if he could re-take the test. She was amused at how naive he was to think he’d be able to try to improve his score on a standardized test — said she was going to have to break it to him that it didn’t work that way. I said, “Uh, yes it does,” and went on to explain the way this whole process had been bastardized to provide totally worthless information which was used inappropriately. She was shocked, but after a little more thought, not surprised.

  17. My son came home today in tears. His third grade class apparently did not do well on the STAR math test today. He scored a 98% (even with a couple of questions in math they never learned!!). He was terrified because this was a drop of 1% from the last test they took. PLUS, the principal was in the room when they were testing. Apparently, the teacher absolutely berated them after the test (and she never seemed like the type to do that). The words that he repeated were not words that a nine year old would say: “(The principal said that (the teacher) was too cocky about how her students would perform.” Come ON! If we accept the idea that STAR is really a teacher evaluation (however horrible that is) then the students should not have to deal with the consequences.

    They are supposed to RETAKE the test on Friday. I am opting out. They are up for another SIX days of standardized testing in the next two weeks, and having to re-take a test that one has already scored 98% on is UNREAL.

    Both of my children are completely stressed out- they are tired of reviewing for tests, they are tired of being told how to take the tests (complete with reviews of bubbling techniques and writing inside the box). Frankly, I am ready to pull them out of school for the rest of the year.

    1. Good for you in standing up for your child. There is ZERO justification for making a child, much less an entire class, cry over the results (which are outstanding) not being exactly what they wanted them to be.

      It’s this kind of abuse that must be stopped, and the only way to stop it is for parents to say, no more.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences here.

    2. My 3rd grade daughter came home yesterday VERY excited that she won “The Flying Chicken Award” for moving up the most grade levels in STAR reading (5 grades to be exact) for her classroom. Since the last “assessment” put her at 12th grade (YES I took that with a very large grain of salt); I asked “Does this mean you read on college level now?” Her reply was “I don’t know–I just guessed.” “What?” I asked. “I had NO clue what many of those words meant, so I guessed.” is how she ended our conversation. Thank you HCS for “teaching” my child how to guess on a standardized test!

  18. I just got this email from my son’s teacher today. I have taken out the teacher’s name because I really love the teacher and him/her has gone above and beyond for my son who has been completely bored with the curriculum this school year.
    Parents- here is next week’s newsletter. The last 2 science units will be tested in an open-book style. We are doing so much to prepare for the STAR that I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would like on science. We take the reading test on Wednesday and the math on Thursday. You should be able to check the score on your child’s AR home portal. We should blow it out of the water!
    Guess that tells me what is important to the school system doesn’t it?!!! I know that one of the high schools here has basically already quit teaching because the rest of the year is full of testing.

  19. Momandmore….if I was in your shoes I would be paying that school a visit IMMEDIATELY and demanding a sitdown with the principal and the teacher. We parents have got to take action. I am beyond fed up and have in fact, forwarded this link and one particular posting to Dr. Bice (State School superintendent)down in Montgomery. For what it’s worth, he emailed me back and said he would take this up with Wardynski. If nothing else, this wheel became a little squeeky and got on the radar.

    1. I think we should ALL write Dr. Bice and express our concerns! (Drafting an email now, as a matter of fact!)

    1. Yep. ACT has been having issues everywhere. But many of the issues we’ve had are related to district level issues as well.

  20. I sent an email to the teacher asking about what happened. And my son came home beaming yesterday. Apparently, he ranked the highest in the class in the STAR testing and does not have to take the test again today.

    Rhonda…last year the same son came home with a STAR reading assessment of 10th grade (he was finishing 2nd). At the beginning of this year his first STAR assessment put him at a top level of 6th grade. I know they lose some skill over the sumer, but FOUR grade levels?

    1. My concern is: IF this is a legitimate assessment of my child and she (guessed her way to it) shows above 12th grade at the end of 3rd where does she go from here? Will the district/school make an adjustment so that she is down at the start of 4th grade so that she can show improvement on the other 3 times she is tested? I have heard from teachers that the students must show improvement EACH time.

      I “guess” this depends on how she does next week on ARMT. She is convinced that if she doesn’t do well on it there will be no promotion to 4th grade!!??

      1. I am not convinced that ANY of the assessments of our children are legitimate. ARMT is fairly meaningless aside from maintaining property values and the desirability of specific schools. I can almost guarantee that her STAR score will be lower at the beginning of next year. That statement is not at all a reflection on her- but is based on our experience.

        They make FAR too big an issue of the ARMT. It is not that hard of a test (both my children have consistently score 98-100% on that. Even when they go to middle school and the FOURTH grade ARMT scores are supposedly used to determine class placement, the STAR test scores have far more weight- to the point that the principal of the middle school only talked about ARMT when asked by a parent.

        One of the issues that we faced with the high reading levels based on STAR scores was that while our kids could read higher level books, often they were not emotionally ready to do so (what does a first grader know about the social life of middle schoolers?) nor did they have a context to put books in. That has always been a struggle.

        I can’t stand the level of stress my kids feel. Both are now having physical symptoms….

        1. As a teacher I too feel the stress. I’m told my job is on the line if my kids don’t “score” on the STAR Reading and Math tests. To top it off what they need to “score” keeps changing I can’t keep it straight. In my grade level alone we have 8 major tests to take in less than 2 weeks. If you are in the upper grades there are even more. The kids are stressed, the teachers are stressed. And the point of all these tests are. . . ?

  21. Same here…my kids have been so stressed this year because of all the testing, they have been sick more this year than any other year, and as a result, have missed school time. All this bogus testing is downright disgusting. So tell me, what exactly does it mean to “be reading at a 12th grade level” when you’re in 5th grade? Sure it sounds good and my kid comes home beaming, but it means nothing. I am absolutely convinced my 7th grader could take all the courses that an 11th grader is taking right now and do just fine. My point? These teachers at every level are being forced into producing high scores for their students at any cost. Or else it’s their job! Computerized testing that “self-adjusts” as the student progresses through it is the dumbest, most worthless concept in learning that I have ever heard. In every subject taught, there is a basic knowledge one should attain from the course. The facts and attributes of this subject matter doesn’t “self-adjust” in our lifetime. You either learn it or you don’t. Period. If you are a “slow learner,” than you join other slow learners and receive guidance and direction at the rate you can understand. Sorry, but all the students in school are not cut out to be doctors, engineers, or professional people. Just the way it is. That is why we have vocational schools. But it is a crime that we do have bright, advanced students who are able to learn faster and overachieve. These kids should NOT be held back, but should be allowed to accelerate away from the pack if that’s their desire. Unless we are thrust into a socialist society, we shouldn’t be teaching our kids as if we are already in one. Sorry for the rant. I just keep hearing story after story from both parents and teachers on how bad this testing process is, and yet, all I see is more testing.

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