The STAR Report

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Worried about middle school daughter's STAR results

Sept 2008

Hi, We've just received the STAR test results after my daughter's first year at King middle school in Berkeley. To our dismay, she has scored below proficient. She seems to be bright, so I think this may be a motivation issue. Can anyone recommend a source for some extra help? Do you specifically know about help available from King school itself? Other suggestions? Thanks very much. Should be doing much better

Before acting, I would first really identify the problem. For example, some secondary students start realizing that the No Child Left Behind standardized tests really aren't relevant to their education (and to some degree, the ''question authority'' view in Berkeley reinforces this) and just don't take these tests seriously. In that case, the answer may be in talking to her about the purpose of these tests and convincing her to see them as practice for the CAHSEE and SAT standardized tests that really DO impact her education. Or the problem may be that she isn't a good standardized test taker (how has she done on standardized tests before? Does she have any lurking learning disabilities? Is she a student that has a hard time sitting and concentrating for the length of those rather boring tests?). If this is the problem, than working on how to take standardized tests (lightly now, more intensely when she is in high school) makes sense. Most importantly, talk to her teachers about her academic progress. Is she doing well in terms of class participation, homework assignments, exams and do her grades reflect this? Many middle school students that did well in elementary school have a hard time dealing with all the different expectations of multiple teachers, don't have the much more advanced organizational skills needed to keep track of assignments, do effective note-taking, etc., and the reality is, secondary school academics are more demanding than elementary school. A real important place to consider here is her reading comprehension. Often times students that are able to decode words seem to be strong readers but really don't have the comprehension skills to match their decoding level (for example, the student that can read the words of a college level book but comprehends on a 5th grade level) Programs, such as Accelerated Reader, are great for identifying and addressing this issue, which I believe is more common than most parents realize. Reading comprehension issues will definitely lower standardized test scores and will ultimately impact class grades as well. Karen

I can't figure out how to read my child's STAR report

Sept 2005

I am a parent of an Albany public school student. I received ''The STAR Student Report'' for my 3rd grader in the mail. It looks like important information; but, I can't figure out what all the graphs mean. Can anyone help? kelley

I can speak about the Star Student Report. I do consulting work for the company that writes the Star Student Report for the CDE. In fact, I created a workshop for parents called Understanding Your Child's Start Student Report.\x94 Here goes:

Understanding the STAR Program and the California Content Standards:

The tests in the STAR Program are based on the California Content Standards for English-Language Art, Mathematics, Science, and History/Social Science. These standards describe what all students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level or high school course. A complete list of the Content Standards for California Public Schools can be found on the California Department of Education's website at

Overall Scores:

The front page of the report shows your child's overall scores on the California Standards Test as well as the performance level for each test. The number at the top of each bar is your child's exact score on the test. The colored boxes to the left and the text at the bottom of each black bar provide your child's performance level in each content area. There are five performance levels: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. The state target is that all students perform at the Proficient level or above.

Understanding your child's performance levels:

To help clarify the performance levels, the STAR Student Report color-codes the performance levels, using a traffic signal color scheme. Scores that meet the state target of Proficient or above are color-coded green. Just like a traffic light, green means Go, conditions are good, so keep doing what you're doing. Scores that are below the state target, in the Basic range, are color-coded yellow. Yellow means Caution! Look carefully at what your child is doing in school. Scores of Below Basic and Far Below Basic indicate that the student had significant difficulty with the test. These scores are coded red to mean Stop! Conditions are serious. Talk to your child and your child's teacher immediately.

**The information on the front page is an overall performance score and gives you a general overview of your child's skills as measured by this particular test. Remember that there are many different kinds of assessments and that this test is only one measure of your child's skills. Be sure to discuss with your child's teacher the other types of assessments that will be used to measure your child's skills.

Understanding your child's performance in particular skills:

The second page of your report contains the following items:

- Specific information about your child's strengths and needs
- Your child's California Reading List number
- A national comparison of your child's performance

At the top of the page are charts that present a breakdown of how your child performed on each test and that specify content area(s) requiring more attention. English-Language Arts and Mathematics charts appear at the top of the page. The test items are grouped into the content areas on the left. On the right side of the chart, your child's score in each content area is compared to the scores of students whose overall performance level on the test was Proficient (the state target). A diamond in the Lower column indicates the content area on which your child most needs to focus. If your child did not take a specific test or if your child was tested with accommodations or modifications, this will be noted or there will be no information here.

Your child's grade level will determine what appears in the box below the English-Language Arts chart and the Mathematics chart. If your child is in grades 2 \x96 7, this box will contain more information about the English Language Arts Standards and the Mathematics Standards. If your child is in Grades 8 or 9, this box will contain additional resources for learning about the California Content Standards. If you child is in Grades 10 or 11, this box will contain information about your child's performance on the Science test or History/Social Science test.

Understanding your child's percentile ranks on the California Achievement Tests, Sixth Edition Survey:

The box to the right of the California Reading List box provides national comparison information. As part of the STAR Program, your child took a test called the California Achievement Tests, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6 Survey). As opposed to the previous information about how your child performed relative to the California Content Standards, the CAT/6 survey shows how your child performed in basic skills as compared to a sample of students tested throughout the United States. The graphs in this box use percentile ranks, to show your child's performance. For example, a percentile rank of 75 in reading means that your child scored as well as or better than 75% of students tested in the sample but not as well as 25% of students tested in the sample. Any test accommodations or modifications your child received will be noted.

Using the California Reading List to find books for your child:

Reading and literacy skills provide students with the keys to lifelong learning. Every book your child reads outside of school can help develop important reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.

The California Reading List website was developed to assist parents and students in selecting books that children should be able to read independently. The reading lists on this site have been specifically tailored to match the achievement level of each student in grades K - 12 who participated in the STAR Program.

Be sure to visit this website often because it is updated periodically in order to include new titles written for children and young adults, or to delete other titles that may no longer be available or appropriate.

Here's how to use the California Reading List online and your child's reading list number to find books that are specially suited to your child's reading level and interests:

1. Go to the California Reading List website: To view the California Reading List website, go to, then click on the California Reading List link. The home page of this website contains some information about the California Reading Lists that you may want to review before selecting books for your child.

2. Find your child's reading list: Select your child's grade level range from the drop down menu in the grade level box. Then, select your child's California Reading List number. This number can be found on the second page of the STAR Student Report, in the box in the bottom left-hand corner.

3. Narrow your search using Keywords: Since there are many titles on each list, it is best to enter Keywords that will help narrow the focus of your search. In the Keywords box, enter a word or phrase that describes one of your child's interests such as animals, mysteries, baseball or the Civil War.

I hope this is helpful. If you still have questions, I encourage you to talk to your child's teacher or school administrator.

The Student STAR reports show your child's scores on the state standardized test. A couple key things to look for on the report:

1. The front of the report shows overall scores. State educators and policy makers believe all students can work at grade level. Grade level is illustrated by the dotted line on the bar graph. Proficient means at or above the state target for a particular subject in a particular grade. Compare your child's math score and reading score to the state target. If your child's score is above the dotted line, she is proficient in that subject. Congratulate her.

2. On the top of the back page, you will see bar charts that show how you what your child learned in specific skill areas (e.g. vocabulary). Each bar reflects the range of scores achieved by proficient students in a critical area. The diamonds show you how well your child tested in that area. Where the diamond is on the line or to the right of the line, your child is doing very well. If the diamond is to the left of the bar, your child has an opportunity to make significant progress this year.

Do not focus on the percent correct. The test is designed in such a way that it can be difficult for students to answer all questions correctly. And, students in certain grade levels or in certain content areas will have higher percentages correct than students in other grades.

Since this test is not perfect, ask yourself,
Does this make sense to me?
Is this information similar to what I have observed?
If the information seems wrong, talk to an educator or an educational consultant.

Lastly, remember that a student's achievement (or lack thereof) reflects not only relfects his performance but also what he is being taught. If many students at a school scored below proficient, you may want to work with other parents and educators to improve the school's curriculum and instruction.

GreatParents ( offers individual consultations and group presentations for parents and educators with questions. Debbie

I read with interest the advice from a staffer. I wanted to offer a different view of testing data. While it's true that some schools who have very low API scores may need to retool their curriculum and/or instruction, I think API scores are more likely to reflect the socioeconomic level of the student population. API scores don't take into account testing anxiety, the population of special ed students at a given school, and lots of other factors outside of the control of teachers and staff. Also, keep in mind that some kids score well on tests and do poorly in real world situations because they are good at following instructions but not good at applied problem solving. Others do poorly on standardized tests and go on to be creative, out-of-the-box thinkers--artists, writers, musicians, mathematicians, etc. Very bright kids often are so bored by standardized testing they don't bother to take it seriously. After 4 years as a public school parent, I take API scores and the people who make money off administering, analyzing, and promoting them with a grain of salt.

Parents' comments about the STAR test

July 1999

I have heard that the kids at Albany High at least rebelled against the STAR exam and blew the whole thing off, which would explain the abysmal scores in a district that heretofore has had one of the better reputations. There is nothing in the STAR test for the students. It doesn't affect their grades, it doesn't help them get into college. The kids perceive the test only helps their school administrators' evaluations (they couldn't care less about this) and their parents' real estate values (they don't care about this either). Since there's absolutely no incentive for the kids to do well on this test, they just finish the thing as fast as they can so they can leave.

There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results. There is some good information on the Internet at There were two parts to the test this year. The first part was the Stanford 9 which was basically the same achievement test given every year. This is given to students in California as well as across the nation and the percentile ranks are a comparison of your student with a national group. On the STAR Parent Report form you received the middle part is further explanation of how well your child did in each category of the Stanford 9 test. The lower third of the form, and much of the discussion below, shows how your student did on the augmented questions. These were additional questions, as well as questions from the Stanford 9, specifically chosen to reflect the new (not yet taught) California standards. There are no percentiles attached to these scores. On June 30, STAR results for schools, districts, and counties, and the state will be posted on the California Dept. of Education webiste under What's New at CDE.

Jan 2000

I also saw the Chronicle article rating the Berkeley public schools. I don't have a child in the BUSD, so I don't know much about the schools. But I do wonder---why do the schools (or some of them, anyway) rate so poorly? Columbus got a 3 out of 10, Cragmont got a 5, Oxford got an 8. What's going on? I just can't believe the schools are *that* bad, or vary that much in how well the educate the kids. Is there a story behind the story?

For those concerned about the Berkeley Scores, you should read an article which accompanied the score results in the West Contra Costa Times. Rather than just print the numbers, they added columns in which they re-evaluated the scores based on the percentage of non-english speakers in the classroom and compared schools with similiar amounts of non-english speakers. Many Berkeley & Albany schools & some affluent outlaying areas changed rank dramatically- some rose and some dropped. For example, Thousand Oaks rose two points (on a 1 - 10 scale) . Apparently, some of the higher ranking schools did not have everybody take the test. Before panic sets in, talk to the schools about the tests themselves. For example, the test apparently differed from what the state had mandated the Schools to teach. Also, I read an article in the New York times Magazine recently about state academic tests. It talked about how many problems arise with scoring these tests because of the inexperience of the teachers with giving these kinds of tests. It also said scores rise dramatically after each year the testing procedure has been in place. I suggest giving these tests another year or so before we decide on their importance.


My son is at Cragmont and my husband asked the same question: Why did Cragmont do so poorly compared to Oxford and Jefferson (both geographically close to Cragmont)? My guess, having read other articles about school ratings, was that Cragmont has a bilingual program (as do Columbus and Thousand Oaks) whereas Oxford and Jefferson do not. I'm basing my guess on past articles which have discussed how poorly Spanish-speaking children did on the standardized tests last year. I don't know how Columbus's and Thousand Oak's programs work, but at Cragmont, kindergarteners in the bilingual program start out being taught almost exclusively in Spanish, and each year more English is added to the curriculum. My own feeling is that the Cragmont students from English-speaking families do as well as similar students at the schools which ranked higher. Cragmont is one of the few schools which will receive extra state money to pull up its scores over the next 2(?) years. It has a March deadline for producing a plan for how it will do this. There has only been one community meeting so far to discuss ideas, and these have mostly focused on what should be done for all students. My personal hunch is that a successful program is going to have to be more focused on specific groups of children, not on all children as a whole. Excuse me if this is more detail than most people want, but I want to give some reassurance to parents of prospective Cragmont students. We're all very happy with Cragmont.


I also looked at Berkeley/Oakland/Piedmont Scores. I found a number of things interesting. If you look at the CDE web site you can find the full demographic data for the schools as well as the information about what percentage of children were tested. Berkeley actually looked really good to me for a number of reasons: The main one was that Berkeley over the course of the education actually improved.... So, it's grammar schools have mediocre scores, but it's middle schools are better and it's high school is quite a bit better. I can believe that the demographics change for the high school, but that seems less likely at the middle school level. I also was interested to note that the Socio-Economic Status of schools in Berkeley is far more mixed than it is in Oakland: and, the scores are more uniform across the schools than they are in Oakland. So, in Oakland, you have five schools with 10 scores, but also many with 1 scores. And, if you look at Oakland's 10 schools, there is somewhat less diversity ethnically (Oakland did not survey for SES, but reports free/reduced lunch information) and somewhat less diverse economically. What's very interesting in Oakland is the schools that are doing a good job with students of lower SES and diverse populations: They may not have the high abosolute score but they have a high relative score.... For example, Lincoln Elementary has an 8 score (756) and an 86% participation in the free lunch program and yet, it has a 10 relative score. So, it's interesting to look at the relative scores.

Particularly interesting to me was how poorly Piedmont Schools fared in the relative school ranking. None of it's elementary schools are ranked 10/10.

In any case, the main thing to remember with the tests are that more than anything else you are testing for the relative wealth of the students, and that scores improve as children take the test over the course of time, and as teachers begin to teach more towards the test (and the state curriculum). Whether this is of value, of course, is a matter of discussion.