In Brief


California public school assessment regulations:


The State of California's accountability system for the purpose of ranking public schools and assessing student performance is called Standardized Testing And Reporting or STAR. It requires annual testing of public school students using two tests: the California Standards Test (CST) and the California Achievement Test 6th Edition (CAT/6).

CST test items are linked to what the state calls 'content standards.' These 'standards' are not general goals, principles or benchmarks. Rather, they specify in detail the course content and skills at each grade level in basic school subjects. Almost no discretion about what and how to teach is left to schools, the districts, local community, teachers, and other school and community based educational professionals.

CST tests are currently given in English language and mathematics in grades 2 to 11 in the late spring of each academic year. A writing test, part of the English language test, is given in grades 4 and 7. A social science-history test is given in grades 8 and10, and a science test in grades 5, 9, 10, and 11.  Recent legislation authorizes STAR testing for second graders until July 2007. This was a concession to objections by parents, child development experts and teachers that standardized testing is counterproductive to sound teaching and learning practices particularly in the kindergarten and early grades.  Upon signing the legislation Governor Schwarzenegger released a statement that testing second graders was vital to California's and the nation’s economic future and he will seek to extend testing beyond 2007.

CST tests are what are called 'criterion referenced' tests. This means that scores indicating acceptable levels of performance are set according to some agreed upon cut scores that purportedly indicate levels of proficiency.  CST 'proficiency' scores are set by state appointed panels composed of educators, subject matter experts, administrators, and teachers.  The panels are presented with pools of multiple-choice test items (including answers) developed by ETS, the test contractor, and for each grade level are to asked rank the level of difficulty of the test items, and give their opinions about how many of the items must be answered correctly to establish an acceptable level proficiency. The cut off scores are submitted for approval to the State Board of Education, an eleven member body, appointed by the governor. Note that there is no effort to ground test cut off scores in individuals’ actual proficiency in the subject. There is no basis whatsoever to presume, for example, that students' proficiency scores on a CST multiple choice mathematics or reading test bear any relationship to their actual ability to do math and read. 

CAT/6 tests are given in grades 3 and 7 cover reading-language arts, math, and spelling. California’s CAT/6 is a shortened version of the, California Achievement Test sixth edition, a commercially produced, 'norm referenced' test.  What ‘norm referenced’ means is that testmakers construct the test in such a way that student scores fall along a bell shaped ‘normal curve’ with one half of the scores falling below the mean and half above, with the intervals above and below the mean fixed by a statistical formula.  Test scores are expressed in terms of grade level or percentile rank. This enables statistical comparisons of the scores of individuals, classrooms, districts or states with a national sample of test-takers who have taken a version of the same test. It is important to note that the grade-level CAT/norms are not grounded on actual performance –on what students actually know or are capable of doing at that grade level. 

While CST tests are not timed, they take about nine to fifteen hours depending on grade level. Testing consumes about two weeks of school time not including time spent on test preparation.  CAT/6 are timed 2 1/2 hour tests.

Parents have the unqualified right to exempt their children from all STAR tests by informing the principal in writing. They need give no reasons for their decision. The state, however, requires that 90% of students in a school take the STAR tests in order for the school to receive an API ranking. The federal government requires 95% take the state mandated STAR tests in order to calculate a school’s AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress. (See below for explanations of API and AYP.)

Severely handicapped students may be eligible to take California Alternate Performance Assessment or CAPA in lieu of STAR tests. Eligibility is very limited because the regulations arbitrarily limit CAPA tests to one half of 1% of the school population.

The STAR program also mandates the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education or SABE/2, a norm referenced test of language, math, and spelling for Spanish-speaking students. It is given to children of recent immigrants whose first language is Spanish.  SABE/2 results are not used for calculating the API or AYP.

CAHSEE: California High School Exit Examination

This is an untimed, approximately 6 1/2 hour set of standardized 'criterion referenced' tests in English and mathematics. The test items are tied to a state’s so called 'content standards. ' Cut scores are determined by approximately the same process used for the CST.  CAHSEE was developed to serve as a requirement for high school graduation. However the State Board of Education, bowing to strong public pressure, delayed its use as a requirement until 2006. Though not a requirement, CAHSEE test results are used along with STAR test results to calculate schools’ Academic Performance Index or API. Parents cannot exempt their children from CAHSEE. Though there is pressure on students to take the test, there are no legal negative consequences for students who miss or boycott the test.

STAR and CAHSEE tests are all multiple-choice format with the exception of the CST writing tests.

API: The Academic Performance Index

CAHSEE, CST, and CAT/6 scores are statistically converted to produce a school's API or Academic Performance Index. The API is used to rank order all the public schools in the state for the purpose of identifying and sanctioning low scoring schools, and teachers. Schools are ranked on a scale of 200 to a high of 1000 with 800 set as the minimally acceptable score.  Schools are then classified into three tiers based on family income and within each tier assigned a rank of 1-10 based on test score. This three tier system was created in response to widespread criticism that it is grossly unfair to employ the same scale to compare, for example, the bare bones funded public schools of East Palo Alto, populated mostly by poor Latinos and African-Americans, to the well provisioned public schools of Palo Alto, its affluent neighbor.  The practical effect of the policy however, is to set lower expectations (measured by test score) for schools that serve children of the poor, recent immigrants and /or of color. 

To avoid sanctions, schools must achieve API targets set by the state. Schools and the teachers in schools meeting or exceeding API targets were initially rewarded with additional state funds.  However such funds have not been appropriated for the last four years. Schools that fall short of annual API targets are branded as failed schools and subject to sanctions or 'corrective action'. They are listed on the California Department of Education 'program improvement' web page and are legally entitled and required to receive expert help provided by the state in order to meet the required API targets.  (This does not insure that schools in fact receive such aid.) Schools failing to meet API targets for three successive years are targeted for closure and  'reconstitution'. This means that principals, teachers and school staff are dismissed or 'reassigned' and the management of the reconstituted schools passes to the state and/or is sub contracted to an education management organizations or EMO.  Note that schools may meet or exceed the state's API targets but nevertheless be designated as failing according to federal rules for calculating Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.  (See No Child Left Behind regulations below.)

California teacher credential regulations

Before 1998 to be accepted to an elementary teacher credential program at a California university or college, applicants were expected to have completed a Liberal Studies major or an equivalent program with an average of B or better, or to have passed a battery of standardized tests in their teaching subject area(s). Applicants for a secondary credential had to have completed a major in their teaching field(s)with a B or better record, or passed a test in their teaching field(s). All completed a BA prior to admission to a teacher education program that met the requirements set and monitored by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Programs included courses on social foundations of education, psychology of teaching and learning, teaching reading, linguistic and cultural diversity, and the equivalent of a semester of supervised student teaching. (Bilingual and special education teachers meet a host of other requirements.). In 1983 passing CBEST, a standardized basic English literacy, writing, and math test was added by the Commission as a precondition for admission to a teacher credential program. This eliminated from the initial pool of otherwise qualified candidates an estimated 60%, of African-Americans, 50% of Latinos, 47% of Asian-Americans, and 20% white Americans.

In 1998 the legislature passed Senate Bill 2042 which forced colleges and universities in California to remake their teacher education programs. The requirement that candidates earn a BA before admission to a credential program was discarded.  The Act requires that programs be in compliance with a set of thirteen 'Teacher Performance Expectations' (TPEs) written by experts and consultants selected by the State Department of Education with some input from education professionals and the public.  

On their face there is nothing apparently controversial in the language of these broadly stated standards or TPEs. What, however, is remarkable and controversial is the extraordinary degree of state control over what these mean in practice. For each TPE there is an extensive catalogue of skills, abilities, and bodies of knowledge set out in detail for satisfying that standard. In addition, new regulations issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing specify in even greater detail the expectations (TPEs) that each candidate must meet to be eligible for a teaching credential. 

The state specifies that each institution must assess whether each credential candidate is prepared to teach the State's mandated curriculum (or 'content standards') to elementary and secondary school students, and to prepare them to take the STAR tests and the high school exit exam (CAHSEE). All institutions offering credential programs, undergraduate or graduate, must devise 'Teacher Performance Assessments' (TPAs) to insure that each teacher credential candidate meets the expectations (TPEs). Course descriptions and proposed assessment tasks must be submitted to state officials for approval.

By 2004 the major flaws of the Act were apparent. In the seven years since the law was passed no state funds have been allocated for development of the Teacher Performance Assessment tasks (TPAs) nor for the costs of developing a system for reporting results and maintaining the record keeping required by statute. Virtually all funds allocated were directed to the California Department of Education for training and administrative purposes.  In the face of massive cuts in the education budget, state officials pressed for 'voluntary' compliance. The results are major disruptions of teacher education programs across the state without any regard for their quality, the dismantling of successful multicultural / diversity programs, the rearrangement, renaming and the standardization of courses, and diversion of scarce program resources to satisfying state regulations that have no demonstrable educational benefits.

The No Child Left Behind Act


The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)was signed into law January 8, 2002 by George W. Bush. It renamed and amended ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of 1965, the centerpiece of the Kennedy-Johnson war on poverty in the 1960's aimed at increasing educational opportunities for children of the poor. The Act has been amended and reauthorized every five to seven years since 1965 and its scope vastly broadened. It authorizes aid to Indian education, teacher training, early literacy, school libraries, bilingual education, technology, school safety, and charter schools. NCLB Act runs almost 1000 pages and the terrain it covers is so vast that it is impossible to summarize in several paragraphs The following is a selective summary of its contents.

Title I is considered the flagship of the Act. In 2004 $12.5 billion in Title I funds were provided to schools that serve low-income children in approximately 53% of the nation’s public schools. Almost 65% percent of children in these schools are of color, the great majority African-American and Latino.

What's in NCLB?

There are two primary goals claimed for the act: 1) to institute high academic standards for all students; 2) to insure that there are 'highly qualified' teachers in every U.S. classroom.

States accepting NCLB dollars are expected to adopt a system of accountability with the following elements:

Academic Standards. States must adopt 'content' standards' that must be certified by federal authorities as in compliance with regulations. In effect, NCLB federalizes the nation's curriculum, shifting power to shape curriculum and teaching from teachers, principals and local authorities to federal and state bureaucrats and elected officials.

Annual Testing. Beginning with the 2005-06 school year, students are to be assessed in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8. (There are limited exemptions for physically and learning disabled students). States select or design their own assessments that must be in alignment with the state’s content standards.  95% of the students in a school are required to take the state mandated tests.

Beginning 2007-08, states are expected to administer annual tests in science, once during elementary, middle, and high school A sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state is also required to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests (NAEP) in reading and mathematics every other year. These results are intended to be used to 'calibrate' test results across states thereby establishing a de facto centralized, standardized national curriculum.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Sanctions   Students in all schools are expected to score at the 'proficient' level in reading and math by 2014, and all schools are expected to make 'Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.  This translates to gaining a specific number of test points each year in order to avoid federal government sanctions. Each of the fifty states uses its own system of testing and calculates the specific number of test points needed on the state's mandated tests to satisfy federal NCLB regulations. Schools falling short of their AYP targets for two consecutive years are considered failing. These schools are required to receive technical assistance from the school district.  Parents of children attending schools designated as failing according to federal regulations are given the right to transfer their children to a school that meets or exceeds federal AYP targets. Transportation costs are subtracted from the failed schools' Title I funds.  After three years of failing to make AYP targets, parents have the right to seek supplemental services for their child from private tutoring companies with tuition and transportation paid by the district. If a Title I school fails to make AYP targets for four consecutive years, the district is required to take 'corrective action', such as replacing the school principal and teaching staff, or adopting a new 'scientifically based' curriculum. After five years of inadequate test score gains, a school is identified for 'reconstitution'. This usually means dismissing staff and re-opening as a charter school and/or under the management of an EMO, education management organization.

States have the responsibility for identifying schools needing improvement, and taking corrective action specified by federal regulations.  If any one 'numerically significant' subgroup, based on class, ethnicity, race or learning disability (these are designated by federal regulation) within a  given school fails to meet AYP targets, the entire school is considered as failing. The rule is waived if the failed subgroup makes 10% annual improvement. Note that schools may be designated as successful under state rules for the API yet be classified as failures according to federal regulations for AYP. 

'Highly qualified teachers'   By the 2005-06 school year, all teachers must be certified as 'highly qualified' by the federal government.  'Highly qualified' means that individuals hold a credential or license to teach and are proficient in the subjects(s) they teach.  Beginning in the 2002-03 school year, all new teachers in Title I schools were expected to have met NCLB  'highly qualified.' regulations.  By the end 2005-06 school year all school paraprofessionals must have completed at least two years of college, obtained an associate's degree or higher, or passed a test to demonstrate knowledge and teaching ability. This requirement is already in effect for newly hired paraprofessionals. All judgments about who is 'highly qualified' must be 'scientifically based'.  In practice this is established by standardized testing.

'Reading First' and 'Scientifically-Based' teaching and learning  Reading First is a Title I program authorized by the NCLB Act. It provides funds for curriculum materials and teacher training for grades K-3 for the teaching of reading.  There is a provision that the methods or approaches used must be  'scientifically based'.  Federal officials call the shots on what is considered 'scientifically based'. Currently the only research on schooling deemed 'scientific' by federal officials is very narrowly conceived experimental studies. Under current federal rules, most of the research in the cognitive sciences, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, learning, language development and social psychology does not qualify as scientific. The 'scientifically based' regulations are in the process of being extended to math and science curriculum.  The effect of this definition of research is to pressure schools to abandon hands-on experiential  learning.

School prayer The federal Department of Education must provide guidance to states, districts, and the public to be revised every two years on 'constitutionally protected prayer' in schools. Also, districts must certify to their state education agencies that no state or local policy 'prevents or otherwise denies participation in constitutionally protected prayer.'

Military recruitment Schools must provide military recruiters access to students similar to that provided to college and job recruiters. This includes government access to basic student-contact information upon request. Though parents have the legal right to exempt their children by submitting a request to their local school district, they are rarely informed of this right.

Boy Scouts School or districts may not deny the Boy Scouts, or any other group listed as a 'patriotic society' under the U.S. Code, access to schools for after-school meetings if other outside groups are allowed to use the facilities. The effect of this provision is to nullify local and state ant-discrimination public accommodations statutes.

Take note

V 1.0 March 05  Harold Berlak []  May be reproduced and circulated.

Harold Berlak is a senior fellow at the Applied Research Center, Oakland CA [] and a fellow at the Educational Policy Unit, Arizona State University []