CA Teachers Assail Math Test

K-12 Testing

Claiming that the California statewide achievement testing program in math has gone “disastrously awry,” the California Mathematics Council (CMC) recently called upon educators and parents to seek changes in the program or ask the legislature to temporarily halt the test.


In a letter addressed to California State Senator Dede Alpert and released to the public, the 10,000 member professional organization argues that the math portion of the California state test - the Standardized Test and Reporting (STAR) program - set standards “which surpassed the boundaries of reasonable difficulty” and which “asked students to recall arcane procedures and exotic factoids which do not reflect one’s true ability to think, reason and solve mathematical problems.”


While the Stanford-9 test used by California to measure achievement is not based on the state’s standards, this test was augmented by additional items, to make what is now the STAR test. The CMC states that this augmented portion was developed by a small group of experts in math chosen “because they have a particular bias about traditional curriculum rather than for their expertise on teaching” and who had “no direct knowledge of how children learn.” This has led to the adoption of test items that are extremely difficult for even the most advanced math students.


In a separate study, the Stanford-9 items were found to bear little resemblance to California state standards and to be overly repetitive of basic arithmetic. Conducted on behalf of the California education department by William H. Schmidt, a professor of educational statistics at Michigan State University, the study found that the test would fail to measure whether elementary and middle school students had mastered material from California state standards. He points to a mismatch in content as well as an absence of items measuring higher level concepts which are included in the standards. Only 5% of the test items measured those content standards, for instance.


The study will also examine 75 other norm-referenced tests for grades 2-8 and how they match other state’s standards. The report will be released by The Third International Mathematics and Science Study Center,where Schmidt is national research coordinator.