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High schools institute new testing rule

Original post made on Feb 22, 2008

Students enrolling in college-level Advanced Placement classes at Palo Alto High School this semester had to sign on a new dotted line -- a contract agreeing to take California standardized tests.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 22, 2008, 8:53 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2008 at 9:14 am

As a parent of one Paly alum and one Paly sophomore, this is all news to me. I had no idea that we could have opted out of STAR tests, which we probably wouldn't have done anyway, or that they were now required for AP courses.

I think exam practice is definitely part of education and I have no qualms about STAR tests, although my kids are often told that some of the stuff on the tests were going to be taught next week. For this reason the tests should be done at the beginning of June and not in April. Also, I would like to be able to see specimen tests and also their question papers as I have no idea what they are being tested on. Back in my day, we all came out of our exams with our question papers and our parents could see what we had been asked. It was also a way whereby the next years students could see what was expected of them. The present system of keeping the questions a secret seems a mystery to me. This goes for SAT and CAHSEE exams also.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2008 at 9:16 am

I also meant to add that I think that doing an AP course should require an in house assessment for all students beforehand. The current idea that makes so many students take courses which are harder than their abilities just so that it looks good is not on. My college student is having to do the same level work at college and her AP class really hasn't helped her in college at all.

Posted by No-More-Opt-Outs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2008 at 10:14 am

> Opt out is new to me.

The school where your child attends should have told you about this. Allowing opt-outs reduces the quality of the aggregate school test scores--which are important for any number of reasons. You might want to check with your children's schools to see how they inform parents of this option.

The only way to compare student/school achievement is via the API test score, which depends heavily on STAR test scores. Given the vast sums of money spent on education in California (an nationally), and given the poor performance of the public school system, there should be no opt-outs other than for legitimate reasons.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:16 am

Kevin Skelly is misleading the public by telling them that high school students must take the STAR test or risk falling below a participation standard set forth by the federal government in No Child Left Behind and thereby lose federal funding.

Federal Law requires that high school students be tested ONE time during their high school years in math and english. That's it. Yes, participation must stay above 95% for that one test sitting, but the idea that high school kids need to be tested every year and stay above 95% participation at each of those sittings in order to receive federal funding is wrong and deceptive.

Kids in elementary and middle school do need to be tested every year for federal funding purposes, but not when they reach the high school.

To now try to tie in forced STAR testing participation with the ability to take AP classes is ludicrous.

Posted by Courtney, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Here is an article on the Paly Voice, Palo Alto High School's journalism website, about this issue. It lists the new administration's policies, and has a point of view of Dr. McEvoy as well as the students at Paly High.

Web Link

Posted by Kate, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2008 at 2:43 pm

So, after reading the Paly article, it's clear that McEvoy is now going to use the STAR results for high school placement purposes! Sounds illegal. State law allows students to opt out with parental permission. These tests are not suppose to be used for this purpose. When the kids starting taking these tests years ago, it was made clear to parents that the results would be confidential and not used for placement purposes. Just because there is a new principal at Paly doesn't mean that the rules should change without warning to both parents and kids followed by some community discussion. This action violates a prior verbal agreement the district had with parents and kids. Start this policy with the new group of kids entering elementary schools. Let the parents know what the STAR results will be used for and then everybody is on the same page. The way it's being handled is unfair and unprofessional.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 23, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Kate -

I don't understand your point about testing one time in high school while also having 95% participation. It seems mathematically impossible. Can you provide a source for that, since it seems to have escaped the notice of all the administrators and reporters? Why would PAUSD administrators bother with this if they didn't have to?

Also, while I understand the tests might be dull, I hardly see what all the fuss is about for those taking the tests. No need to study. No grades. No effect on college. And they're much easier than any AP class, so if you're worried they'll keep you out of an AP class, you're not ready for it. So.... show up, bubble stuff for a few hours, go home. What's the big deal?

They do eat up some instructional time. If you want to complain about that, I get it.

Not to say I'm a big fan of NCLB and what they do with the test scores, but that's a separate issue.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 23, 2008 at 8:31 pm

SkepticAL - The idea that the No Child Left Behind Act is somehow requiring the District to STAR test the kids every year while in high school is false. The point is that the District is using this federal requirement as a reason for refusing AP class access to kids that do not participate in state mandated STAR tests. The federal authorities only require that the kids be tested once during high school in math and english. The exit exams in Math and English, already adminintered at the high school, could satisfy this requirement. If you want to discuss this concept with someone who is knowledgable and accessible, contact the U.S. Department of Education. You could also contact the State Department of Education for additional input.

The state is very clear about there being an opt-out provision for the state mandated STAR tests. Now, according to the District, if a student does opt-out, as he or she is legally able to do, the District will prevent that kid from enrolling in AP classes. There is absolutely on connection between AP classes and STAR tests participation. Appears to be illegal and in conflict with state law.

Also, Principal McEvoy was clear in the article referred to above that the results from the STAR tests will now be used to determine eligibility for AP class placement. How can you not study and prepare for the STAR tests if that is the case? The state did not intend these tests to be used in this manner.

Clearly, you do not have kids in high school. They have so many test to take, outside of those administered by the teacher of a particular class they are enrolled in, that for some, after school activities are a thing of the past. There are PSAT's, SAT Math, SAT Verbal, SAT Writing, SAT II Math, SAT II History, SAT II Physics and this list goes on and on, AP testing in every subject that you qualify and high school exit exams in English and Math. In addition, Junior and Seniors have college essays to write, college applications to complete, college visits, college interviews, college focus sessions, college fairs to attend. This is just a sampling of what is expected of kids today. Believe me, the one thing these kids do not need is another set of tests. The time used for more testing could be used to really benefit the kids with additional instructional time. It's important and shouldn't be minimized given that the STAR tests can take up an entire week of instructional time.

Posted by perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2008 at 8:48 am

given that it costs money to test the kids and causes tremendous grief, I doubt sincerely that the entire STATE's administrational folks at all the districts and at the state level have somehow missed the purported fact that only ONE test per high school career is needed to continue to get the massive Federal funding of what...5% of the entire State Education budget? And how much of that, as a Basic Aid District, do we actually receive?

I suspect an error.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 24, 2008 at 10:35 am

Kate -

Yes, I suppose I could attempt to contact these departments for more information. But over the years, I've read a lot on this topic, and I'm looking at a situation where all the experts in PAUSD and every other district I know of are doing something quite different from what you describe, and if you were right, why would they all be wasting this time and effort? Since you're the one with the knowledge that everyone else seems to have missed, I thought it might be reasonable to ask how *you* know this. You didn't really answer that question.

Now, as for the testing at the high schools, the real issue seems to be participation. There's no real chance that a kid who's ready to take AP English can't score as a proficient reader on these tests. The schools are using what leverage they have (AP access) to get kids into the seats for the tests, so that folks don't abuse the opt-out for selfish purposes and risk putting the school/district in jeopardy due to participation requirements. You're right that there's a disconnect in the purpose and use of the tests, but I don't see that it imposes much of a burden on students. I have some experience administering these tests and they're rather basic for most students - like I said before, show up, fill in some bubbles. You have that long list of tests the high school students take, but the content-based tests are supposedly aligned to what's studied, so it shouldn't be a major burden to prepare for a test by taking a class all year, since that's what kids do - take classes. Then, with SAT I or STAR tests, there's even less studying required, if any. (Yes, I know many PA students cram for the SAT, but that's their choice, when it's really not necessary for most kids to do more than know some strategies and have a couple practice tests under their belts. By the way, some SAT tutors around here manipulate their practice tests to show greater gains and instill fear).

I agree with you that the loss of instructional time is unfortunate, but no, it does not consume a week. It's two days at Gunn, and maybe Paly distributes the tests differently, but it's the same amount of testing.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2008 at 11:05 am

It's true that NCLB requires only one test for high school students vs. annual for grades 3-8. From the DoEd site:

"Measuring Knowledge: No Child Left Behind requires states to test your child in reading and math every year in grades 3-8. Your child will also be tested at least once in high school. The tests will help you, your child, and your child's teachers know how well your child is learning and when he or she needs extra help."

That said, there may be perfectly good reasons to test and PAUSD may feel that it is helpful for them to test as many students as possible. That this is somehow to the serious detriment of the kids evades me.

Skelly seems to be taking a firm hand to some of the practices at our schools, which is what I figure we hired him for. If we don't like the result, we can always fire him. But for now, we should let him do his job.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm

The point is that state law gives you the right to opt out of the STAR tests. Just because a new administrator decides that he wants to ignore that state law by academically punishing the kids that don't comply with his new rule doesn't make it OK. Just because you believe that it isn't a hardship on a kid to take the additional STAR tests every year is your opinion and may not be accurate.

A school district can't decide that it wants to evade a state law by making the consequences of following that state law untenable and in this case detrimental to a student's college admittance.

SkelticAL - I contacted the federal government agency in charge of this - DOE.

I guess we just have to agree to disagree on this one. Something tells me that Skelly probably now realizes he's breaking the law and will most likely adjust his approach on this issue soon.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Kate, I'm not sure what the state law is. According the expert quoted in the article, what PAUSD doing is ok. Do you know otherwise?

You are right, my opinion is that it is not detrimental to the kids - apparently my opinion is shared by the principal and the Superintendent. You may disagree, but I believe we should let these new administrators do their jobs and judge them by the results.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2008 at 4:37 pm

The testing itself is not detrimental - but the time used up by the tests themselves, not to mention the prep time spent teaching to the tests, could be spent SO much more productively especially during Jr and Sr year of high school.

I have not found the STAR tests very accurate in measuring my kids weaknesses and strengths anyway...

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2008 at 12:05 am

Thanks, Terry.

It's all well and good to know ONE set of rules, but what about the OTHER one?

Regardless of NCLB, the CA Dept. of Ed. requires that we test everyone through grade 11 (that's the overall system, at least, with individual waivers of course).
Web Link

The NCLB info regarding only one required test is news to me - I admit I was not well enough informed there. But still, I've never heard or read about high schools elsewhere taking advantage of this provision. And I don't know how you make your NCLB requirements in the long run (i.e., 100% proficiency) if the only way the law permits you to show proficiency is through testing and you don't have to test high school students more than once... something's missing...

I think the key is somewhere in here:
The school district failed to meet percentage requirements in particular student subgroups, including Latino and black students and special-needs students, in 2004 and 2006.

Districts receive a federal warning the first time, so Palo Alto has escaped with a wrist-slapping so far.

But if the district's rate -- calculated from the rates of each school -- dips below 95 percent too often, federal representatives could visit the district to assess problems and force administrators to draft an improvement plan, Garrison said.

The district is under scrutiny because it accepts Title 1 federal money for disadvantaged students, he said. Paly and Gunn do not receive such funds, so they would not be penalized, he said -- but other schools in the district could be.
Kate - how closely did you read this article? You say Skelly is misleading the public, but you're putting words in his mouth, or using some information from outside this article. Did you read this part:
Linking STAR tests and AP courses is legal as long as schools offer a way for students who don't take the STAR tests to still take an AP course, [Skelly] said.

Palo Alto Unified will require students who opt out to write a paper or otherwise prove readiness for the AP course, Skelly said.
Now, to accuse someone of knowingly violating the law is rather close to libel. Your anonymity is a nice shield, but for the sake of the quality of debate here, I would request that you practice more restraint in your rhetoric, or back up your claim, or tell us who you are before you drag someone's name through the mud.

I actually do happen to think you raise a good point about the mismatch in the original purpose and proposed use of the STAR test. I just don't see it as quite the problem that you do, or, to the extent I see it as a problem, I'd lay the blame on the state and federal systems which are dictating how things go, and putting local administrators under pressure to keep schools in legal compliance as a system even as individuals can exercise their rights in a way that tightens pressure on the school.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2008 at 10:24 am

If the district want's to use AP classes as measure of how wonderful the district is - then turns around and withholds access to AP classes from kids for not taking the optional Star testing... Then is sounds like the district is cutting their nose off to spite their face.

I'd tell them where to put their star test ~and~ their AP classes.

Who really gets harmed more by kids NOT taking AP classes? Maybe being relieved of their forced march to AP classes is just what the doctor ordered for these overworked kids.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2008 at 11:00 am

ScepticAl - I don't see your name on any of your postings! I can assure you that I read the article very carefully. How carefully did you read my posting? Your points are irrelevant to what I posted. I stand by my earlier posting:

"Kevin Skelly is misleading the public by telling them that high school students must take the STAR test or risk falling below a participation standard set forth by the federal government in No Child Left Behind and thereby lose federal funding."

You tend to speak to a portion of a sentence within a posting. Read the whole sentence before you comment. Also, you seem to interchange federal and state requirements at will. Lastly, telling students that they have the right to opt out of a STAR test via state education code section 60640 and then telling them that if they do opt out they will not be able to try to enroll in an AP class unless they write a paper (that is acceptable to who?) or somehow show that they are ready and able to handle the class (again, who is determining this?) is absurd. It's like telling a student that they do have free speech rights, but if they choose to exercise that right, they will not be able to take certain classes at the public high school unless they write a paper about why they think they need to exercise free speech rights (judged by someone?) or somehow show (again, someone who will remained anonymous) that they are capable of exercising their free speech right. Making exercising a state or federal right difficult just because a public school doesn't like that the right even exist is wrong and illegal. There is no more of a connection between AP class eligibility and yearly STAR testing then Free Speech rights and AP class eligibility. The district needs to be forthright with both the parents and students.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Kate -

True, my name is not on my posts. I'm also not dropping accusations on people. That's the difference. I have no problem with anonymous people debating an issue, or criticizing each other's rhetoric, and I'll do that anonymously. You made a public accusation you can't substantiate, and you don't have to answer for it publicly. I think that's an abuse of anonymity for libelous purposes.

I'm not "interchanging" state and federal regulations. I'm pointing out that our schools must answer to BOTH state and federal standards, while you've been focusing on federal regulations for test participation as if the state regulations didn't exist. I refer you, again, to the CA Dept. of Ed link I posted above. By the way, (and I mean this sincerely rather than sarcastically), can you suggest some mechanism by which the schools can test enough students to make results valid if, at the same time, too many students are opting for that waiver because they just don't like the tests?

It's nice that you stand by your statement. Where is the basis for it? The part of the article you seem most concerned with is attributed to Bill Garrison. If you can show me otherwise, I'll certainly apologize for my misreading. Will you do likewise if, upon further examination, you see that I'm right?

And speaking of "irrelevant," how can my response to you be irrelevant when I'm directly comparing your words to the article? However, I already conceded that you've raised a fine point regarding the potential mismatch in the test's purpose and use, and then you go on and on about it as if I had disagreed with you on that point. However, I think you go too far in suggesting that it is "absurd" for the school to set conditions for AP enrollment. Don't they already do that? (If you're arguing for completely open enrollment in all AP courses, that's different, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree). If it turns out later that there's abuse of this system, it should be dealt with appropriately. They've done this at Gunn already, and apparently it worked out. Maybe you should wait and see if problems develop at Paly rather than assume the worst.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2008 at 10:14 pm


I don't get the impression that the high schools or district really want to do this. I think they're stuck, because too many people are opting out just to get a break in their week, and the school has little recourse. If people continue to opt-out to the degree they did in the past, apparently the district will be facing intervention or sanctions (contrary claims on this thread notwithstanding). If the schools had wanted to do this, I'm sure they would have thought of it earlier. So the question was, what leverage do the schools have to ensure they meet participation requirements? As a last resort, it seems they came up with this. It's not pretty, but it's not totally irrational to say students should demonstrate "proficiency" - a rather easy standard relative to AP coursework - and do their share to keep the district free of government interference. (And if students refuse that method, it seems reasonable to require an alternative instead of a free pass). By the way, the school that I work at, and most schools I know of, use STAR data for other evaluative purposes instead of APs, so let's not forget that too many opt-outs also distort this measure of the high schools and their students.

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