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Seniors opt out of required California science test, while teachers urge participation

Graphic by Jackie Lou

Written by Joy Huang

Gunn seniors will take The California Science Test (CAST) Pilot Test on Thursday, March 30, and Friday, March 31.

According to Superintendent Max McGee’s email to the seniors’ parents, the CAST pilot test will help the assessment to accurately measure students’ performance on the new California state science standards. As a pilot test, seniors will be the first to take the CAST before the actual test is released; thus, scores will not be collected or reported.

Seniors with last name initials A to K will be taking the test on Thursday, and last name initials L to Z will take the test on Friday. Testing will be administered in one session and take less than 90 minutes.

Contrary to popular belief, seniors were not assigned the testing by the school district. Rather, the State of California assigned a grade in each high school to administer the CAST, therefore mandating seniors at Gunn specifically to take the assessment.

Student and staff concerns

Assistant Principal Heather Wheeler believes that student participation is essential for the development of the test. “This is something [we need to do] in order for us to get the information we need and to create an assessment that is authentic and genuine,” Wheeler said.

However, senior Keshav Nand does not expect many seniors to attend the testing session. “Most students are not well-informed on why they should take the test or what the test is,” Nand said. “E-mails were sent to parents, but my parents don’t really communicate with me about this, and I believe other students also have this difficulty.”

Senior Leila Tuma agrees that students were not given clear reasons for taking the test. “[The post on Schoology] tells me nothing about the test, what it is measuring or why I should take it. I do not think it is important to take this test—I have no reason to,” Tuma wrote in an e-mail. “[Seniors] are trying to decide on college and get through our last few months in high school, say goodbye to everyone and move forward. Nobody is going to take another test after all of the tests we have taken. We are checked out.”

Although Science Department Instructional Supervisor Laurie Pennington understands students’ concerns, she believes seniors are the most qualified to evaluate the new assessment. “I think the seniors are going to be upset about having to take a standardized test that they haven’t had to take in the past, but I really hope they show up to take it, because the new science test is supposed to cover all the science that we learn in high school,” Pennington said. “Who better to take the ‘test of the test’ than students who have taken the most science at our school?”

According to McGee’s email, a 95 percent participation rate is required, and students who are absent need to attend make-up sessions. However, California Education Code section 60615 states that parents or legal guardians may annually submit a written request to the principal to excuse their child from any or all parts of the CAASPP Summative Assessments.

CAST’s impact on science education

CAST is part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), and is based on the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). Pennington is excited to see how the new test will incorporate these new standards. “The [CA NGSS] are more about understanding science concepts and the processes of science than they are about remembering about a bunch of facts, so I think students who tend to process more will actually be able to better showcase what they know,” Pennington said.

The CAST test replaces the California Standards Test (CST) and California Modified Assessment (CMA) for science. There will be 12 to 15 questions and a performance task with five to seven questions that require students to solve a series of complex problem sets. The test is computer-based and adaptive. According to Wheeler, an adaptive test will change the difficulty of the questions based on whether the student answered correctly. “This adaptive test allows us to see where the student is in relation to the curriculum, as opposed to putting the student in a box,” she said. “We are able to see that and respond appropriately to the students’ needs and move forward whether that student needs enrichment, or whether that student needs more intervention and support.”

Wheeler believes that the new test will be more beneficial because it is formative. “A formative test allows us to use it as a way to adjust our curriculum as opposed to a summative test that just says, ‘here’s the end score,” she said. “A formative test allows educators to look at how we are teaching our curriculum, look at the needs of the students who are actually in the classroom, and [help us to] make those decisions based on that information.”

Pennington agrees that the new test will provide a more in-depth understanding of what students know.  “I haven’t seen much value in the results we have received from the previous CST for helping to make adjustments to our curricula,” she said. “But with this particular test, I believe that teachers and schools will be able to use the information in order to improve and focus on areas of need in science.”

Based on the California Department of Education website, the operational tests will be administered starting the 2018-2019 school year.

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