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Testing in California: An overview

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By GreatSchools Staff

How are the tests scored?

CST results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students will receive one of the following five ratings on the tests: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient or advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level. Students who score at the proficient level or above are considered college-ready, particularly at the high school level. Since only California students take the CST, the results cannot be compared with other students across the nation.

CAHSEE results show the percentage of students passing each section of the test. Scaled scores on the test range from 275 to 450, with a passing score of at least 350. This translates to students answering approximately 54% of the math questions and 60% of the English-language arts questions correctly in order to pass.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Although the STAR program includes a variety of tests and subjects, only CST results are included on GreatSchools profiles. For each subject on the CSTs, the combined percentage of students scoring at and above the proficient level is displayed.

For each subject on the CAHSEE, GreatSchools displays the overall passing rates for grade 10 students taking the test for the first time during the spring semester of their sophomore year.

GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. These subgroups are identified by the California Department of Education; if there are 10 or fewer students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the tests matter?

Although California does not mandate that schools use test results to make decisions regarding grade-level promotion or retention, individual schools may take STAR performance into account when making such decisions. In general, standardized test results that are below proficient are one factor that might indicate the need for additional assistance. CAHSEE scores are particularly important to high school students, because students must pass the test in order to graduate. Students who do not pass the first time have multiple opportunities to retake the test.

Test score performance is important to schools because it is a principal factor in determining the Academic Performance Index (API) score, the accountability rating assigned to each public school by the state of California. These ratings can have substantial consequences. Under-performing schools may be given additional funds to encourage improvement and excellent schools may be eligible for awards.

It is important to be aware of both your child's test results and the overall accountability score for her school. If your child scores below proficient, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.

Comments from readers

"teachers need to stop teaching to the test we need more critical thinking skills! "
"My sister is currently a student at Sylmar High School in California and they have informed her that in order to pass high school, she will have to perform well on the CST's. I know that the CAHSEE is needed but the CST's are only to assess a child's skills correct? I only ask because this school has been known to lie before in order to "encourage" the students to perform better. "
"I would like to ask that even your only grade6 in the philippines then you have not finish it and you have no any records that will be submitted in your school is it ok that you could proceed in high school provided you have past the exam.? pls. response "
"In the second paragraph, second line, of the section copied below, the author of the article spelled "principle" incorrectly. Ed. Note: Thank you for this note. We've checked this and it appears to be spelled and used correctly, in its adjective form meaning "most important." "
"I've been told that CST scores go down from second to third grade, go back up in fourth grade, and, again, go down in fifth grade. Is this true across the state? "
"I am a student in Fontana, Ca,and I believe this test, the CST, is great for the reasons being: 1. It measures how much the student has learned, 2. How good the school's curriculum is. And 3. How well the teachers execute their jobs. By the way the tests are not very hard. "
"I am hoping to know how relevant the reading list level is and how it is determined. I have a 5th grader who scored 600/600 in both Math and English for 3 years in a row, 1200 each year from 2nd to 4th. She also scored 100% on her 4th grade Writing Application score. Yet, her reading list level is 9. It was 7(2nd grade), 8(3rd grade), then 9(4th grade). It looks to me that it just goes up by 1 every year. The reading level list doesn't mean much to me, since my daughter has read well over 3,000 books already. Yet, I am just wondering who gets the level 13+ and how. "
"As for perfect scores, it's quite common at our school. I have 7 students with perfect scores in math and 3 in language arts. "
"I, too am proud of my second grader. He scored perfect in math and he got a 525 in english language arts. He scored perfect on all sections of the test except literary reading and analysis where he got an 83%. He is African American and attends a Title 1 school in a crime-infested and impoverished community... "
"My child is in second grade and just received perfect scores on both math and language arts. Just like us, the school couldn't be prouder of him. :) "
"When will the parents receive CST results for 2011? "
"What happens if you need to take your child out of school the week of STAR testing to visit an elderly family member out of state? Can the test be done early or made up after returning? Thank you to anyone who answers! :)"
"I have a 20 year old and an 18 year old..They have both completed high school. My 18 (4.0)year old graduated last June & walked on stage last June on her older Sister's Birthday..Her older sister (3.8) had passed the literature the first time around but, even though she received A's in Geometry, Algebra etc, taken the test 5 times, missing by between 1-3 points each time. (She'll be taking the test for the sixth time next week). She missed by 1 point on last November's test. The Cahsee is a crock of crap. She has friends who passed both math and Literature the first time...Friends who can't even speak fluent english & spell worse than a 6year old. I think some of the schools 'fix' the tests. If a kid works their butt off academically and earns the credits needed to graduate there sould be nothing holding them back from walking across that stage. I am so sick of seeing this happen to so many kids.....Somebody needs to do something!!"
"my grandaughter is a senior in High School, she has taken the Cahsee math test at least six times, missing 2 questions and missing it by 1, she is waiting for her February results which is April, this is rediculous. If they are basing her future on the test, then why bother going to School? until she passes the math we can't even make any arrangements for Her Graduation 06/2011. is there anything that can be done?"
"There was a kid named Jessica Paige Waybright who got perfect scores on the CST."
"I would love to know how many kids get perfect scores on their STAR tests, too. My daughter who will be in 4th grade has gotten 600 on her math and 600 on her English for 2 years in a row. My friends who taught in LAUSD told me that they'd never seen it before....So, I am a bit curious...."
"How many kids get a perfect score on the star tests each year?"
"Could someone help me understand how is the math cst scores broken? How is each item weighted? Thank you, Frank"
"After reviewing, I agree with 8/19/2009 comments. This could be contributed to the middle and high schools lack of ‘required participation from the parent’ and ‘the school’s lack of informing parents on student issues’. On another note, regarding comment of 6/8/2009, most of us know there is usually an underlining issue that causes such behavior. Your negative comments towards these students or any others indicate your disregard towards teaching. Being a 23-year veteran parent, I was fortunate enough to have wonderful instructors that inspired my children to continue through college and be successful in life. Realizing children hold different views; our formula was to adapt learning to their needs. Oops, meaning, most disruptive students require more work, an instructor and family who is willing to help them academically succeed in life! To all the parents who make negative comments about the education system or excuses why my student did not pass a test. Children and teens feel that negative energy and tunnel it at school. Maybe you need to go back and look at what can you do to help your child succeed in school. Refocus negative to positive attitude. Remember, no one is perfect, including the education system. Peace out… "
"I have two kids on school and I explain them that school is their job and they have to study every day to ear good grades and I believe with the Exit Exam the students can prove if they were in school to learn good skills and continue with the most important steps, please thinking of the old years when kids were promoted to the next level because the age not of their because knowledge is wrong. How can we expect that our kids will be successful in their life if we are not preparing them well enough to start a new career when it is not just about graduating it is about how well they are doing and how hard they are working through the years."
"THANK YOU FOR THIS DETAILED INFORMATION AND CLARIFICATION! question: at elementary level, what interventions are set in place to bring lower achieving students (low test scores) up to grade level? it is common knowledge that a high amount of children are reaching middle school with an inability to complete basic math and english assignments. (how did they slip through the cracks - why do they move through the grades without being able to read/write and complete basic math??). common sense would lead to the intervention being in place here rather than later years when children have built up psychological defenses to learning at middle school/high school monies are spent on 'intervention tools' but by this time so much schooling/learning has been missed. ((ie: 'locking the stable door after the horse has bolted')). WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE STATE TEST SCORES? are they used as a guide tool to make adjustments or are they for documentation purposes only? Thank you for any informative response."
"Looks like the older kids are getting dumb and dumber when the freshman are passing Algebra II and juniors are barely passing Algebra I."
"Some children disrupt the classroom because that is--perhaps--how they can have a sense of power in a world where they feel they have none. . .no power over who they can become. . .low-self-esteem. I'm just speculating, but as a 20-year veteran teacher at Dominguez High School Compton, California, it is something I have observed, and my heart goes out to those kids. Still, that type of behavior is not and should not be tolerated. When all of us--teachers, students, parents/guardians--work together and put in our fair and honest share of effort, then our kids can succeed. . .and isn't that what it's all about, anyway?"
"To the person(s) posting 4/27/2009.....are you referring to the Exit Exam as the test that your daughter missed passing by 5 points??? I'm not sure what state you reside in, but here in California, the Exit Exam is first given to high school students as sophomores. Students are given at least 5 opportunities to retake to pass this Exam before graduation. Here, there are two subjects that are tested; English/Writing and Math. 450 points for each of the two. The passing requirement is only 350 per. To the 'Hogwash' response on 5/21/2009.......get a clue!!! Since when has summer school ever been a bad thing , whether the attendee is a straight 'A' student or one just trying to keep/catch up. It's about the effort to do better, as well as being held accountable if one hasn't made the effort or needs alittle extra help. STAR testing isn't CRAP.....CORPORAL PUNISHMENT and your skewed or blurred misconception is the 'CRAP' here. There are WAY TO MANY kids who don't 'give a ! damn' about their education(s), but all the while don't realize how their efforts, or lack there of affect the students around them who do care and make the efforts! There are too many school age kids who have come to believe/accept that the bare minimum effort, or less is acceptable. IT ISN'T! The 'respect in the classroom' IS in fact the kids who do make the effort, do the homework, do the extra credit, put in the extra hours and stress and sweat about the grades and or teachers comments. The kids disrupting the classroom are the ones struggling, hoping to bully, con and fake their way through. STAR testing or otherwise, the bottomline is that we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles need to hold our children accountable and continually try to reinforce how important any and all education is."
"I have kids in public school and I teach part-time in both the CSU and UC system. In the private sector where I work full time, standards are measured by the work you do and success is defined by the ability to do it and profit frm it. The 'test' is simply an agreed upon standard, like a 10' rim for all you midnight basketballers. The tests were implemented to measure our students performance. Immigrants, coming in from third-world contries, were scoring higher and had better work ethics than out students in the 70s and 80s. It is like a game of basketball where all the weak guys under 5' had to play the guys over 6'. Over the past 15 years, I can definitely say that writing, communication, and test taking skills have improved since the testing was initiated. There are other factors, but the testing helps focus a student on doing work. Yes, it is more work, but this is good for students. Now, many parents feel like failures when Johnny scores in the 30% range. But here and as in real life, Johnny can take summer school to perform at a higher level. In a sense, improve his game. "
"Loved your format....... I will look forward to your next update. Thank you, "
"This is hogwash. They teach to these tests, and if you are 3 or under instead of being held back you have to go to summer school. And then when your 7th grader is placed in a class that all scored low, for example a math class, he is in there with all kinds of kids disrupting the class. Bring back choice of corporal punishment. Bring back f___ing respect to the classroom. This star testing crap is crap!"
"hi...this is not fair to the people who went to school for 12 years and can't graduate becuse of this daughter went to jordan high and miss passing this test by 5 points it was one week before graduation when i found out that she wasnt passing because of this test, i felt so hurt, i paid for her high package which cost me 1200 then they didnt want to return my money or the thing in her package, thats wrong the school board should stop this test and go back to the old days when all they needed was good permance in school."