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Standardized tests rules schools

By Ben LumpkinDaily Planet staff
Thursday May 03, 2001

Students sound off on taking statewide exams 


As Berkeley’s K-11 students diligently fill in bubbles on the statewide standardized test forms this week, administrators are doing what they can to ensure students stay calm and give the tests their best effort. 

“We try to create a relaxed atmosphere,” said Thousand Oaks Primary School Principal Kevin Wooldridge. “The test is enough stress as it is.” 

In general, homework is out during testing weeks and instructional games, movies, and fun stuff are in.  

“We don’t get any real school work,” said Willard Middle School eighth grader Stephanie Stephens Wednesday. 

Part of California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (Star) Program, the tests will help determine schools’ statewide rankings. The results will also give individual school sites a breakdown of how well their students are doing in each subject area, at each grade level. 

While students’ individual results should be reported within about 20 working days from the time all the tests are handed in, scores broken down by grade level, school, district, city, county and so forth don’t have to be posted until Aug. 15.  

Individual results are confidential, but group breakdowns will be posted on the California Department of Education’s Web site.  

One of the greatest difficulties of the standardized tests, which take a total of between seven and eight hours to complete depending on the grade level, is the simple fact that students don’t know what they will be tested on in advance, Wooldridge said. 

“If a fifth-grader has a math test on Friday, then he knows exactly what he needs to study for,” Wooldridge said. 

Standardized tests are held under the strictest secrecy until the moment when a proctor plops them in front of the student clutching his No. 2 pencil. 

Berkeley Unified School District Interim Superintendent Stephen Goldstone has sent a letter home to all Berkeley parents explaining the importance of the standardized tests, but also encouraging both parents and students not to become stressed out. 

“Goldstone has really had a focus on student achievement and encouraged us not to have testing be a chore,” said John Muir Primary School Principal Nancy D. Waters. 

The district has also provided all elementary students with a complimentary organic breakfast this week – delivered right to their testing classrooms – to help boost their energy levels. 

Waters said the test can be particularly hard on the second graders, who are taking standardized tests for the first time and aren’t used to staying focused on one test for up to 55 minutes. 

“It’s really tough on those little guys,” Waters said. “We let them know that they (should) just do their best and everything will be cool.” 

Waters said John Muir teachers have helped their students practice for the tests, using practice materials that help kids become accustomed to the multiple choice format. 

Wooldridge said Wednesday that his students seem to be holding up well so far, halfway through the second day of testing. But he said the tests could begin to weigh on some before the experience is over. 

“Some kids do get stressed, and others just kind of take it in stride,” he said. “It has a lot to do with the personality of the kid.” 

Students typically test for about an hour and a half each morning, so the tests are spread out across six or seven school days. At John Muir, the staff decided to test Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for two weeks in a row.  

“Research shows that Mondays and Fridays aren’t the best test days,” Waters said. 

At a time when a number of teachers and parents say standardized tests are little more than a waste of time, Waters said the tests do provide valuable data to help her tweak her curriculum and better meet student needs. Still, she said, they are one assessment of many and should not be overemphasized. 

“It can really help us in knowing how to prepare the curriculum,” Waters said. “But at the same time it is just one measurement – and some students don’t test well.” 

Willard Middle School Principal Gail Hojo said the tests, while not ideal, are the only means for administrators to see how well their students are learning the new statewide academic standards. 

Hojo said taking standardized tests is a part of life that students need to be prepared for as early as possible. 

“Standardized tests may be considered a necessary evil right now,” Hojo said, pointing to the fact that student scores on such tests are studied carefully by college admissions offices and corporate personnel offices around the country. “Right now in our society it is a way that we use to assess if a person is qualified.”  

After they finished their first day of testing Wednesday (Tuesday’s test had to be postponed due to a shortage of proctors), Willard students expressed a mix of bravado and indifference. 

“I was expecting it to be harder,” said Willard Middle School eighth grader Melondy Bell. “They made it sound harder when they were giving instructions.” 

“I really don’t care” said Willard eighth grader Stephanie Stephens. “It doesn’t affect me getting into college or high school or anything.” 

Still, Stephens said she couldn’t blow the tests off completely, since her mom takes the results seriously. 

“She wants to see how I’m progressing,” she said.