The California Department of Education released the 2010/11 STAR test results today and the data showed that Hart District students demonstrated slight increases from the previous year and continue to perform consistently higher than their peers county-wide. It is these test scores that will be used to calculate the District’s, and each school’s, Academic Performance Index (API) that will be released in early September.
“Even when our numbers stay the same, they are impressive, especially compared to county and state scores,” noted David LeBarron, director of curriculum and assessment for the Hart District. The tests, taken last spring by 18,741 students, measure student knowledge of the state’s academic content standards – the specific content that students are expected to master at each grade level and course.
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Student scores on the STAR tests fall into one of five levels, ranging from Far Below Basic, Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The goal is to increase the percentage of student scoring Proficient and above, while decreasing the percentage of students who score Below Basic. LeBarron noted that the API calculation places more emphasis on the number of students who move up to Basic, rather than the number who move from Basic to Proficient or Advanced.
In English/Language arts, the percentage of students achieving at the Proficient or Advanced levels increased at three grade levels: 8th, 10th and 11th. Performance remained the same at the 7th grade, and decreased by two percent at the 9th grade level. The percentage of Hart District students scoring at the Proficient or Advanced levels surpassed Los Angeles County levels at all grade levels by more than 15% at the junior highs and more than 20% at the high schools.
In mathematics, both junior and senior high school students continue to significantly outperform their county peers in all grade levels and classes even though the number of students scoring Proficient or Advanced dipped slightly in those classes. One factor in the decrease is the Hart District’s goal to increase the number of students successfully completing Algebra 1 by the end of their 8th grade or 9th grade year. An outcome of this goal is that students who would have excelled in a less rigorous math courses took Algebra I, where it was more difficult for them to achieve proficient-level scores.
“Our goal is not to get higher scores on the California Standard Tests (CST),” LeBarron explained. “Our goal is to be sure that our students are being challenged to their highest ability level.”
In Science, students take the test which reflects the subject they will finish that school year. The number of students scoring Proficient or Advanced increased in every subject and grade level except Chemistry, where it fell slightly.
LeBarron also pointed out that the performance of students who were English learners increased from the previous year. The percentage of English learner students scoring Proficient or Advanced on their English Language arts tests increased at three grade levels and fell by only one percent at two others. He also noted the number of English learner students scoring Below Basic decreased at all grade levels except 7th grade, where it was unchanged from the previous year.
“Hart District students do very well on the STAR tests because we place a strong focus on ensuring that our students are taught the State’s academic content standards, which is what the tests assess,” LeBarron continued. “Every one of our schools has a professional development plan that focuses on research-based programs that improve student learning.”
Results of the STAR testing program are crucial in calculating the State’s Academic Performance Index (API). “API is a growth model,” LeBarron explained. “Schools will be rewarded for growing, regardless of where they start.”
STAR test results are also an important piece of the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report. AYP requires that a certain percentage of students be proficient in both mathematics and English. At the junior high level that percentage is determined by student performance on STAR tests and at the high schools by student performance on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).
The importance of STAR test results goes well beyond the state and federal “report cards” however. Every school in the Hart District will be looking at its test data to assess its performance and to help determine the areas for growth for content, grade levels, and subgroups.
“The true purpose of a test is to give us information we can use,” LeBarron continued. “We need to analyze the results and determine where we did well and were we can do better. Every school is doing that.”
He noted that the STAR scores are only one piece of the assessment picture, but they are the piece that is the largest for the public. “We take it very seriously,” he concluded. “Our students’ performance on the state assessments is extremely influential in the design of our instructional programs.”