Santa Rosa City Schools officials are grappling with ways to make students more accountable in a state and federal testing system that punishes schools and districts for poor scores, but imposes no repercussions for the students actually taking the exams.
Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's largest school district with approximately 15,500 students, is expected to enter the third year of program improvement sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law because students have failed to meet academic targets on standardized tests.
Yet results from the annual Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program test, which dictate those sanctions, do not affect the students themselves. Disclosure of how students score is deemed an infringement on students' privacy, said assistant superintendent Anastasia Zita.
Parents would have to grant permission for every student, every year, to put the information on transcripts, Zita said.
"The state has actually said to us, and me in particular, STAR is not meant to gauge the performance of any single student, but the performance of a school," Zita told trustees at Wednesday night's board meeting.
"You don't have school accountability unless you have student accountability, therein lies the rub," she said.
Printing a students' score on their transcript is against the California education code, Zita said. But some districts in the state have adopted a method of incorporating STAR scores into final grades.
Board members expressed frustration that scores dictate everything from how many minutes a day particular subjects can be taught to where parents will enroll their children. Yet, they are seen as meaningless by some students and some parents.
"I know parents, they tell you they don't like all this testing," said board member Donna Jeye. "Yet they check out the school scores and determine where they send their children based on the school scores."
Teachers union president Andy Brennan said a proposal to include STAR results in students' final grades would require teachers to return to their grade books after scores are released in July and rework dozens of final grades deep into the summer or even into the start of the new school year.
"In principle, I like the idea of doing something with grades, but it's the logistics," he said. "It's not fair to hold us accountable for a test that the kids aren't accountable for."
Trustee Laura Gonzalez, who teaches school in Windsor, said that plan risked "uneven buy-in from teachers that would engender parent complaints."
Brennan would rather find a way legally to print a students' score on their transcript.
But students at the meeting bristled at the thought that STAR scores could affect their grades or show up on transcripts that are in included in college applications.
Abriana Newton, a senior at Santa Rosa High School, said students largely don't realize the real world penalties that can come with poor test results.
"Students think that nothing happens, it's just a test for no reason," she said. "If they mention the consequences that come out of it, people would try."
Santa Rosa senior Henry Lathrop has seen students blow right through the test, making patterns with the answer bubbles and not paying attention to the questions. Still, Lathrop said it wasn't necessary to affect a student's grades because many students do try.
"It's a drag, I can admit that," he said of the test. "I do give it my all. I do it for the sake of my school. The school has done so much for me, I don't want to let them down."