[Susan notes: This letter was sent to the California Senate Committee on Education. Note how carefully the author marshalled his facts.]
Submitted to but not published
Honorable John Vasconcellos, Chair
Senate Committee on Education
State Capitol Room 2083
I urge your support for AB 356 (Hancock) as proposed to be amended. This bill would eliminate state awards for test scores, would delay by two years the requirement to pass the high school exit exam, and would eliminate STAR testing of second graders.
AB 356 would clear the way for more appropriate forms of assessment for second graders. Please allow me, as a second grade teacher, to outline some of the reasons why California should halt STAR testing of such young children.
Costs and Benefits
The legislature should not mandate government programs whose cost outweighs their benefits. The STAR test for second grade is such a program. The
direct costs of this program include several millions of dollars of state funds, the use of approximately one million hours of instructional time for test administration in second-grade classrooms throughout the state, and negative impacts on children's health and readiness to learn. The potential benefits are few because of the unreliability of the test data.
In response to a request from Congress for recommendations on appropriate methods, practices and safeguards to ensure that tests are used
appropriately and "adequately assess student reading and mathematics comprehension in the form most likely to yield accurate information
regarding student achievement," the National Academy of Sciences cautioned against over reliance on standardized testing, particularly in cases where the costs to society and to individuals outweigh the potential benefits of
In its 1998 report, "High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation," the National Academy warned that "Test use may have negative consequences for individual students even while serving important social or
educational policy purposes. The development of a comprehensive testing policy should therefore be sensitive to the balance among the individual
and collective benefits and costs of various uses of tests." Further, the Academy suggested, "the value of tests should also be weighed against the
use of other information."
The National Academy concluded, "Problems of test validity are greatest among young children, and there is a greater risk of error when such tests
are employed to make significant educational decisions about children who are less than 8 years old or below grade 3or about their schools." There are better ways to obtain the information about second grade achievement
needed by California parents, teachers, administrators and educational policy makers.
The results of standardized achievement tests given in second grade are not accurate measurements of students' academic achievement at the time they are given. Nor are they good predictors of students' future achievement, or
even of students' scores on subsequent versions of the same test.
In recent correspondence, Samuel J. Meisels, President of the Erikson Institute, wrote, "These tests are highly unreliable. Anyone who has
examined the raw data, like me, sees this all the time."
Professor Meisels is the nation's leading authority on the assessment of young children. He has published over 150 articles, books, and monographs and is the co-author of The Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention (Cambridge University Press, 2000). Before becoming president of Erikson, Professor Meisels was a professor of education and a research scientist at the University of Michigan for 21 years; he is now an emeritus professor there.
Professor Walt Haney of Boston College writes that "Group administered standardized tests for young children (below grade 3) tend to have low
He cites one study in which several thousand students in four states were given form B of the California Achievement Tests (CAT) three to six weeks after having taken form A, and concludes, "The alternate form reliabilities
of the CAT for grade 1 and 2 students are quite consistently lower than those for students in higher grades." How unreliable are the tests?
Professor Haney points out that for three of the CAT sub-tests studied, "less than half of the variance in scores is 'real' most of it is error."
For those sub-tests, in other words, the test results are worse than useless - they are probably wrong.
Benjamin Bloom's classic work, Stability and Change in Human Characteristics, demonstrates that standardized test measurements of the
mental abilities of young children show relatively little power to predict mental abilities at maturity. For example, reading test scores at age 6 (or grade 1) correlate with reading test scores in grade 8 only at the level of chance. Or as Bloom himself put it, "We may conclude from our results on general achievement, reading comprehension and vocabulary development that by age 9 (grade 3) . . . 50% of the general achievement pattern at age 18 (grade 12) has been developed." Test scores for children below this level (grade 3 or age 9) have relatively little power to predict the course of future development.
Harm to Children
There is growing evidence that the pressure and anxiety associated with high-stakes testing is unhealthy for children--especially young
children--and may undermine the development of positive social relationships and attitudes towards school and learning.
The Alliance for Childhood, composed of leading experts in child development, educational psychology, and cognition (and including Theodore
Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools; Deborah Meier, founder of the Central Park East Schools in Harlem; and Harold Howe II,
former U.S. Commissioner of Education) issued a statement on High-Stakes Testing in April 2001, expressing concern this experiment may harm
children's health by causing excessive anxiety and stress.
As the Alliance documents, parents, teachers, school nurses and psychologists, and child psychiatrists already report that the stress of
high-stakes testing is literally making children sick.
Most states have made the same decision as the federal government--to defer standardized testing at least until third grade. According to Ed Week (Quality Counts, January 2003), besides California only nine states and the District of Columbia have state-mandated testing of second graders.
Because of the unreliability of standardized testing at this grade level, and because of the wasted instructional time, wasted dollars and harmful effect on children caused by these tests, I hope that California will join the majority of states in deferring standardized testing at least until third grade. In place of STAR as it currently exists, California could follow the guidelines of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and implement assessments that meet the educational and
emotional needs of young children, that do not disrupt the usual learning experiences in the classroom, and that enable teachers to support
children's learning, to plan for individuals and groups and to communicate with parents.
Very truly yours,