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left: Makayla Riddlespringer listens to teacher Joe Lucido. “range of difficulty” with some questions that 80 percent of students are expected to get right and others that only 20 percent are expected to answer correctly. If questions don’t match their expected range of difficul- ty, they may be removed. He says that the goal is not to make STAR tests more difficult by changing the ques- tions, but to make it as close to the previous year’s test as possible. The STAR tests are “criterion-referenced Are tests structured for failure? It’s not surprising that the state with the highest standards in the world also has the most complicated testing system when compared to other states. Some believe that standardized testing in California is structured in such a way that a certain percentage of students, and in turn schools, will consistently be failing. Standardized tests are designed to pro- duce a “score spread,” or a distribution of scores that can be compared, says James Popham, a former UCLA professor, test researcher and author of several books in- cluding Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know and The Truth About Testing. When test questions are answered correctly by too many students, they are removed from the test during yearly revisions, he says. This is not happening everywhere, says Popham. “In some states, standardized tests are designed to help teachers do a 18 California Educator | november 2009 better job. In other states, like California, accountability tests are absurd. For exam- ple, in California you have content that teachers think is most important, and it is content they stress and spend time on, so their kids tend to score well on it. Items that too many kids score well on are re- moved from the test. It’s a killer. You have a test built by a testing company that is more interested in trying to produce com- parisons among test takers than measur- ing educational quality.” Moving the goal post The STAR test is “refreshed” each year, with new items added and others removed, confirms John T. Lawrence, director of the state Standards and Assessment Division. Nearly 50 percent of questions on each test are items from the previous year’s test, and about half are new, he says. Each of the ques- tions is designed to have an individual tests,” which means students are graded on what they know, not in relation to each oth- er on a bell-shaped curve as in a norm-ref- erenced test. However, since the goal is to separate out students’ scores and label some as proficient and others as failing, Popham and other experts say that it’s just a matter of semantics. There are also different “versions” of the same STAR test depending on grade level and content area, says Lawrence. Some lan- guage arts tests for one grade may have 14 versions and there may be as many as 20 versions of some science tests. A little-known fact is that some of the questions students struggle with don’t actu- ally count when it comes to scoring. They are “imbedded field testing questions” that may be counted in future tests, depending upon how well students answer them, says Lawrence. Questions on the California Standards Tests, the major component of the STAR program, are written by California educa- tors and test developers. When asked to de- fine “educator,” Lawrence says that all “item writers” must have had at least three years’ classroom experience at the appropriate grade level and content area. “Some have retired and others have moved into administrative positions, but all have spent at least three years in the class- room,” he says. At least 70 percent of the questions in a STAR test assess “key standards.”

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