Testing in California: An overview
A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests
By GreatSchools Staff
Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. California currently uses the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program to measure student learning in grades 2 through 11. The STAR program includes the California Standards Tests (CSTs, a series of standards-based assessments), the California Modified Assessment (CMA, a standards-based test for many students with individualized education programs), the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA, for students with significant cognitive disabilities who are unable to take the CSTs or CMA), and Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS). Prior to 2008-2009, the STAR also included the California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6), a national norm-referenced test. In 2009, the CAT/6 was eliminated as a testing tool and was no longer administered in the state. California also administers the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which high school students must pass to graduate.
Using tests in the STAR program and the CAHSEE, California assigns each school and district an Academic Performance Index (API) rating ranging from 200 to 1000, with a statewide API goal of 800 for all schools. Based on their API scores, schools are assigned API growth targets. These performance metrics are also available for various student subgroups. Schools also receive rankings — one comparing similar schools and another comparing all schools in the state.
Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.
Tests in California
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 early-March and mid-June of every year.
How important is STAR?
As well as helping parents understand how well their students are learning, STAR is also designed to help schools understand how well they are preparing their students. It's a high-profile accountability tool, which means that the results get a lot of attention, and decisions about specific schools and students are often based on the results.
What happens when STAR scores and classroom grades don't agree?
Some students who receive lower scores on the STAR test may be at the top of their class, while others who excel on the test may consistently receive low grades in school. In either case, you should meet with your child's teacher or principal to discuss what steps your child or your child's school can take to improve consistency between test results and classroom grades, and what you as a parent can do to help.
What tests are included in STAR?
- California Standards Tests (CSTs)
- California Modified Assessment (CMA)
- California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA)
- Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS)
The California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6) and the Aprenda, La prueba de logros en español, Tercera edición were eliminated from the STAR program in 2009.
California Standards Tests (CSTs)
The California Standards Tests were developed to measure whether students are mastering the specific skills defined for each grade by the state of California. The CSTs are a series of standards-based assessments given in English-language arts in grades 2 through 11; math in grades 2 through 7; science in grades 5, 8 and 10; and history-social science in grades 8 and 11. In grades 9 through 11 students take the CST for the math and science courses (such as algebra, geometry, physics or chemistry) in which they are currently enrolled. 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 in grade 10 take the World History, Culture and Geography: The Modern World CST.