Berkeley Federation of Teachers questions BUSD standardized testing plan

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Citing worries about the standardized testing mandated to start next week, members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, addressed the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board at its Wednesday meeting — the board’s first meeting of the school year.

Star Reading and Star Early Literacy are testing systems for students. The systems are electronic standardized tests that would provide more information about the causes of reading struggles in younger students, according to a fact sheet written by the BUSD Educational Services department.

For the 2018-19 school year, Star tests will be administered from kindergarten through grade five. Grades one through five will be tested three times a year, but the first round of tests for kindergartners will be deferred to the winter trimester.

In the fact sheet, BUSD staff said each round is estimated to take students about 20 minutes to complete.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, multiple BUSD teachers and parents spoke about their concerns, especially the implementation and timeline of the tests.

Carrie Johnston, a first-grade teacher at John Muir Elementary, questioned the decision to implement the tests without consulting with teachers.

“The fact that the implementation of a new assessment regime was decided over the summer, and that faculty were given no opportunity to hear about, much less weigh in on the decision to adopt these new assessments, is alarming,” Johnston said during public comment.

In addition to these concerns, several people questioned the negative impact that time spent testing would have on time spent teaching. For younger students, the test must be administered individually or in small groups; the class cannot take the test all at once.

“It takes significant time with young children to distribute computers, get students, many of whom cannot yet read, logged on, show students how to hit ‘Admin’ and ‘Next’ … show them how to get started,” said BFT President Cathy Campbell during a comment period. “All of … that must happen before the 20 minutes — before the test begins.”

Though the testing was not on the meeting agenda — and thus could not be addressed during the meeting — several directors did respond to the speakers’ concerns during the board member and superintendent comments, with several comments receiving hisses from the audience.

Both BUSD board member Karen Hemphill and superintendent Donald Evans pointed to the role that standardized testing has played in identifying BUSD’s high racial achievement gap.

“We have too many students that are not being appropriately assessed so they can receive intervention at earlier grades,” Hemphill said, to hissing from the audience. “I have seen the data … and it is morally unacceptable. So rather than focusing on what you don’t want to do with the assessment, I want to hear from everyone in this room what will address this problem. Because not testing at all will not serve our students.”

Contact Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.