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A Guide to the STAR Tests in California

Get answers to all your questions about STAR in our guide to understanding the test and its results.

By GreatSchools Staff

Every year, the release of STAR scores sparks a media blitz that puts schools in the spotlight. Parents are left to wonder what to make of their children's scores and their school's results. Our guide tells you everything you need to know about California's STAR program.

What is STAR?

Each spring, California students in grades 2 through 11 take a series of tests through the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, more commonly known as STAR. First administered in 1998, the STAR program requires all public schools in California to test students between mid-March and mid-June of every year.

The testing program consists of standards-based tests designed to show how well California students are mastering the grade-level content standards established by the state Board of Education. In grades 2 through 11, the California Standards Tests (CST) cover English-language arts and mathematics. In grades 8 through 11, the test adds history-social science. In grades 5, 8 and 10, students take a science test. In grades 9 through 11 students take the CST for the math and science courses (such as algebra, geometry, physics or chemistry) that they are currently enrolled in. Ninth graders who are not yet taking algebra take the General Mathematics Standards Test. Students in grades 9 and 10 who had completed Algebra II or Integrated Mathematics during a previous school year, and grade 11 students who completed one of these two courses anytime prior to the beginning of testing, are required to take the Summative High School Mathematics CST.

Students with severe disabilities who are unable to participate in the regular testing program take the California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA). The CAPA measures achievement in English language arts and math. A science CAPA test was added in 2008.

2008 was also the first year of administration of the California Modified Assessment (CMA). The CMA was first given only in grades 3 through 5 to a small percentage of students for whom both the CST and the CAPA were not appropriate. In 2009 the CMA was given in English-language arts to students in grades 3 through 8, in math to students in grades 3 through 7, and in science to students in grades 5 and 8.

The Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS) are given to Spanish-speaking students who have been enrolled in California schools for less than 12 months. These Spanish-speaking students in grades 2 through 11 take the STS in reading-language arts, and those in grades 2 through 7 take the STS in mathematics.

The Aprenda, La prueba de logros en español, Tercera edición (Aprenda 3) is a nationally norm-referenced achievement test of general academic knowledge in Spanish for Spanish-speaking English learners, given in grades 8 through 11. The STS will replace the Aprenda 3 for grades two through eleven beginning in 2009.

The California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6) was eliminated from the STAR program in 2008-2009.

What's the difference between STAR and API?

With all the different scores and numbers, it's easy to get confused. STAR is the name for the whole testing program created to ensure that all California students are consistently assessed on a regular basis.

The Academic Performance Index (API) is one way to look at school performance based on a variety of tests that students take. The API includes the results from the California Standards Tests (CSTs), the California Modified Assessment (CMA), the California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA) and results of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).

Each school's STAR results are calculated into a complex formula that assigns the school a base API between 200 and 1000 (1000 being the best score). The state has set 800 as the target API score that schools should try to achieve. This number is translated into a ranking, 1 to 10, from under performing to high performing. It is used to help schools track their own progress and to hold schools accountable for improvement. The results may result in sanctions or rewards for schools. For more about the API, look here.

Comments from readers

"Im totally freaking out ! MY STAAR TEST IS TOMORROW !!!!!! And i also have a question . Im one of the smartest kids in my class and usually get advanced on all of them , like i did last time . If i get advanced on all of these test , will i be able to skip a grade ? "
"Problems with CST (specifically high school): 1. No "buy in" or responsibility for the students. It doesn't affect their grade, graduation, etc. 2. The test is administered in April leaving which is not enough time to cover all of the standards. 3. Asks questions from the beginning of the year. How is a child supposed to remember all of the concepts? Solution that solves problems 1, 2, and 3: 1. Give a CST two to four times a year that is based on a portion of the standards. Allow the teachers to use the result as part of the students "test" or "quiz" grades. Teachers are given sample questions, lists of concepts covered, and other related materials. This would make the CSTs more accurate and relative. Regards, Concerned high school teacher "
"april 10,2012 First day of STAR tests today!!!!!!! "
"What is the point of STAR testing anyways?? My daughter's school is practically failing. It has the lowest API score of all! "
"Why do 12th graders not take the STAR? Is there standardized test that 12th graders take (in California) for English Language Arts? "
"I think STAR is unfair,stuck up and unjustified.They should be banned! "
"I think cst testing should be eliminated! "
"To be perfectly honest, in the long run, the STAR test means absolutely nothing. The only real purpose of it is to evaluate the schools -- not the students ability to learn. Parents, please encourage your children to not fret over a low STAR test result. As long as they tried their best there are no real consequences -- only psychological ones you put on them. The only test, I'll say this once and I'll say it one hundred times over, is the SAT. I know this is WAAAY far away from a 3rd grade parent's mind but, coming from a high school senior who is receiving college acceptances, I cannot stress how utterly and extremely important it is. Essentially all test lead up to this big whammy. In many ways it determines whether you get accepted to a college, how many thousands of scholarship money you receive, and how much the school itself is willing to pay you to come to their school. I know juniors generally take this test, but if your child starts preparing in say, 8th grade, they c an surely be ahead of all their classmates and hopefully avoid the enormous stress students are hit with starting sophomore year."
"Star Testing is just one aspect of a child's ability, but unfortunately, it counts for a whole lot on how schools are judged and funded with the rediculous 'No Child Left Behind' rules. My third grade son aced the math at 600, and scored mid-range advanced in language, but only scored an 87 on his school's GATE exam, so he didn't make the GATE program this year, even though his teacher made a special effort to get him in despite his lower GATE entrance test result. As for kids who get test anxiety and thier parents get permission for them skip the STAR tests, I don't think that is a good solution. Taking the test needs to be used as a teachable moment. Being tested in some form or another is a fact of life and parents need to help guide their children through it, not protect them from it. Someone is giving the kids test anxiety in my opionion. I just tell my kids to have fun, do their best, get a good night's sleep and give them extra good breakfast to make it special. The! results will be as they are with no expecations on the scores."
"Do you get into honor classes if you get at least 2 advance on the STAR tests?"
"how do you get a percentile score on a yearly basis? What does a 596 mean? My child says he did not have 600 questions."
"I know this comment will irritate many of you, but most of you would be scoring below the 50th percentile in language arts because of all your grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Welcome to my life as a teacher dealing with STAR testing. And how many of you consider yourselves intelligent? I agree there should be accountability, but I don't agree it should be one 'high stakes' test. I also don't agree that one testing company should be profitting so greatly from a state education department. You would be amazed as to what is on these tests. The spelling words are a joke. I wish I could give you examples, but then I would lose my job. The students are asked, 'Which word is not correct?' Then, on the same page, the question will be phrased, 'From the passage you just read, which word is spelled correctly?' Then the question is posed... etc., etc. Blah, blah, blah! And don't even get me started on charter schools."
"schools that score low grades should be the goal of governmental support and not being withdrawn financial resources. that certainly wont draw up their scores, their teachers or their students success."
"I feel that the star testing should not count for such a high percentage of a childs grade. Students who do very well in class, but have test anxiety, are at an extremely high disadvantage. The star testing does not reflect their true academic ability, but instead reflects their anxiety. I do not disagree with the testing process - it is a part of life - however, I do disagree with the tests being calculated at such a high percentage of a childs grade. This is especially true for young children in elementary. "
"My daughter is the smartest person in her intire school sure I believe you because you're soooo smart..."
"'My daughter is the smartest person in her intire school!' You've GOT to be kidding."
"My sons are now in college. When they first started taking the Star tests in elementary school, I noticed that they were developing severe test anxiety. I withdrew my permission for them to be tested. I was bullied but did what was best for my children. Parents should be have to sign permission slips for testing. I totally disagree with all this testing like they were commodities coming off an assembly line. My sons are succeeding in life because I believe in them and their schools. "
"My daughter is the smartest person in her intire school!! And that's why when it comes to the STAR test she does not full around but I think all students should really pay attention because they should know they are going to be tested on what they learned through out the year! So thats why me and my husband are very pround on how well our little girl has grown up to be as smart as a 10th grader!!"
"What really happens if your child gets a low result on the star tests? What about in 8th grade, is it true that students need to do well to be able to get to 9th grade?"
"Where would I go to find out how to help my child. My son is in 5th grade and tested at a 12 + grade level for math. I want to make sure he's getting challanged. I would also like to be able to break down the scores, to know what they mean for us. Students should get something like grants for learning or money for college. They are working just as hard as the schools to get those high scores."
"I think that STAR is unfair to children. Our government should get rid of it. The government should think of better ways to asses the students. "
"Good explanation. My son is an honor student with excellent grades, however I have felt that he needed improvement with his writing skills. His Star test results were good but reinforced that writing is his weakness. Showing my son the scores made it easier for him to understand that this is where he needs to make a greater effort this year."
"This is all wonderful information. But once, again, and I have written to the San Diego Union about it, WHY DO THE NEWSPAPERS GET SCHOOL RESULTS BEFORE PARENTS OF STUDENTS? Parents should get the results BEFORE the end of the school year, so their children and be remediated and get help and/or tutoring during the summer. Test score information and feedback is not distributed to parents soon enough. I have lived in other states where the scores have been provided earlier. Why is California behind this curve? "
"If my child has made passing grades all year long and failed the referenced test, I will not even get into a debate about having my child retained. It is important for parents to try to stay involved with their child's progress. There was a child who failed the state math test but had A's all year in class. The child told her teacher about having to put in one more answer, but she had bubbled in all her spaces. She didn't attend summer school, but took the test during the summer and passed. This is one incident of many that may occur when a child take these test. Think of other incidents that teachers may not be aware of with students. Why can't we just use the results as seeing the students strengths and weaknesses? This should be the path to help students improve. We are being compared by schools, counties, nationally, and globally. Are we preparing our children truly with all the testing and the way we are using the results? I don't think so. "