California’s Education System In Need For Improvement

All throughout elementary, junior high and high school, California students have been required to take the California standardized test, better known as the STAR test (Standardized Testing and Reporting), which was replaced by the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress). The purpose for this test is to see where the student stands in the following categories, English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics for students in grades 3–8 and 11.

Some educators argue that standardized testing is important, but not essential. Standardized testing holds everyone accountable, the students and the teachers; however, teachers agree they need to find a better way to check for understanding, to make sure students are getting a proper education. In a way, testing does help students in that sense.

Pacifica High School In Oxnard, Calif. Image by Yvette Tostado

Pacifica High School In Oxnard, Calif. Image by Yvette Tostado

Even though testing has been part of the state’s requirement for students to continue on with their education, there has been some modifications in terms of how testing works. California’s Department of Education has decided to implement a new way of testing, where students can improve on certain categories in the classroom such as English and Math. This way of testing is called Common Core and has been around for a while in other states. The new Common Core standards are set for English and Math, they are still working on Science and Social Science standards.

California has decided to adopt this way of testing to prevent students from falling behind in the academic spectrum. The states department of education’s goal is to help and ensure that schools have their students  meet California’s standards.

“Since 2010, a number of states across the nation have adopted the same standards for English and math. These standards are called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Having the same standards helps all students get a good education, even if they change schools or move to a different state. Teachers, parents, and education experts designed the CCSS to prepare students for success in college and the workplace.” – California Department of Education

According to the California Department of Education’s website, we need more “focus on the skills that help them move up the stairs or they can slip up and fall behind.” Not everyone is the same; therefore, not everyone learns the same material at the same pace. The website has a 3-minute video explaining how common core works and with great detail uses “ladders” as a metaphor in terms of the students knowledge. Since everyone’s “ladder” is different, they will place differently in ranks in comparison to other states. California wants to use the common core as a form to “create consistent steps in education.”

“So first, each standard creates a landing on the staircase, a stop along the way as your child heads toward high school graduation. Each stop is a chance for every parent and teacher to focus on the skills their students are supposed to know at that step no matter the ZIP code, language or race.” – California Department of Education

Oscar Madrigal, a High School Social Science Teacher  says the new standards are set to teach more across the curriculum, meaning that you focus on other subjects in the classroom. Madrigal gave an example to have a better understanding of how the common core works.

I may have to teach a mini Math lesson, in my Geography or World Civilization class. Students begin to see a correlation between everything they are learning as it is brought up in another class. Teachers have a little more leeway in what they are teaching in their classroom as they are looking for mastery in fewer materials, instead of learning a little about many different things,” said Madrigal.

As an educational system, Madrigal believes it can lead to a better school setting as students get more out of their education, because teachers will have to work together to accomplish the desired goals. California is working on improving its educations system based on the state’s testing data. Although Madrigal feels that California is improving in education, coming from an educator perspective, until California is number one in the nation then he does not feel that California is doing well.

Years ago California was or near the top of the nation, we need to get back there,” says Madrigal.

Azusa High School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Azusa High School. Image by Yvette Tostado

The way California sees improvement is by having students take tests to record data to see where they stand in terms of following the curriculums. Even though California might see this as a way to improve on their stats, students and some educators do not agree with the tactics of testing. Many students as well as their parents and some educators, argue the idea of testing and believe that testing does not help in a way shape or form improve the students academics. They believe it works against them and agree that they are not fully prepared to take a test where they have no full knowledge of the testing categories.

Nelva Guzman, an elementary Special Education Para Educator, does agree how the state requires students to take tests. Guzman believes standardized test is not essential to give to students. She has worked in mainstream and special Ed classes and sees children being taught to pass a test and not much else.

As a state I think our children are behind in almost every subject. For example, children are not being taught grammar because there isn’t enough time because that time is being spent on standardized testing. A test doesn’t any benefit and doesn’t teach a child anything.” – Nelva Guzman

Magnolia Elementary School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Magnolia Elementary School. Image by Yvette Tostado

This brings up a huge issue, which is giving parents the option to opt out their kids from state testing. California is one of the very few states that allow the option of having students opt out from testing. In a sense it hurts the state by not knowing where they stand in terms of education. The only way they would be able to gather the data would be if students take the test.

Although, many students would gladly take a “free day” as opposed to taking a test that could possibly mean nothing to them; where students as a whole would be hurt is in teacher implementation. German Figueroa, a high school math teacher says testing has its pros, and if students opt out from testing, there would not be a legitimate way to determine where we as a state fail.

“When the scores reflect little to no learning, teachers are forced to reflect on practices to better engage students in the material and increase understanding. Without proper data, many teachers would operate under false assumptions about their students’ learning,” says Figueroa.

Individual students would not be hurt by opting out of state testing; especially without proper incentive. Figueroa says the test should serve as a baseline for students’ learning, and as such, all students are important in order to fully grasp the range of learning. There should be a choice of test (as in multiple testing forms) in order to adequately gauge all forms of learning, however the test itself should remain mandatory.

Charles Lee School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Charles Lee School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Some parents have strong opinions towards the common core standardized testing and feel strongly that they should opt their kids out due to the student not feeling prepared to take tests. This is becoming something more than a California thing, but here in the state is much easier to opt out. There is even a site,, which stands for Californians United Against Common Core, that allows parents to fill out a form to take their kids out of testing.

The purpose of this website is: To expose the deception, dangers, lower standards, and enormous costs behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative; to educate and motivate the public as to why Californians should be opposing Common Core, and why we should be exerting every effort to stop California from going forward with the CC curriculum, standards and Assessment tests.” –

Guzman is in favor of giving students the option to opt out from testing. “I am for opting out, absolutely, a test does not tell you what you know, it tells you what you can regurgitate a small porting of what you remember,” says Guzman. The para-educator says these test are hindering children by having them compare their “intelligence” to others based on a test, and that is not how a students knowledge should be measured.

Mountain View School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Mountain View School. Image by Yvette Tostado

Madrigal feels that every student should have the option of taking or opting out of standardized test. He would preferably  like all students to take their standardized test, however, if they feel that this test is not something that reflects their academic skills, then they should have the option to not take the test. He believes for financial reasons, California should be a part of the Common Core educational plan. “California as a state does need a good amount of federal funding, so it should follow suit. Common Core is not bad it is very similar to what was taught in the schools 15-20 years ago, just with a different name,” says Madrigal.

Common Core testing can help improve state ranking in terms of education but if students choose to opt out of testing, then California will have a hard time recording data as well as improve the state’s educational curriculum.

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