An Open Letter About STAR Testing

In a stack of papers called Testing.

  • Apr
  • 10
  • 2006

Dear Student:

We begin STAR testing tomorrow. You just finished with the CAHSEE a few weeks ago, the AP tests are around the corner, and you know that semester finals aren’t too far off. In short, there’s hella testing around this time of year.

I know STAR seems lame. There’s nothing to hold you accountable for taking the test seriously. You could bubble in “C” all the way down your answer sheet and nothing bad will happen to you. And you could try your hardest, earning an outrageously high score, and nothing good will happen to you, either. College scholarships for excellent STAR performance dried up with the budget several years ago.

Meanwhile, you have projects and deadlines for other classes that actually have an impact on your future. If you “fail” the STAR test, you’ll still graduate. In fact, STAR performance isn’t even considered in college applications, so what’s the point? You’ve got a Biology test to study for and a few chapters to read for English. So it’s no surprise that your first thought is “You want me to take a test without reward or punishment? Yeah, right!” Your immediate impulse is to do work that really matters.

I wish I could say that you are wrong in making the decision to ignore the STAR tests, but I actually think you are among the more critically thinking students on our campus. You have realized that there’s nothing in it for you to take the STAR tests with even the smallest grain of effort. You have realized that it’s up to you to decide how to spend your time and you’ve opted to use it on improving your performance in coursework that has an impact on your graduation. Or maybe to listen to that new CD you just bought. Whatever your choice, that’s the kind of decision you’ll be making for the rest of your life; good for you.

However, as you might imagine, I cannot agree with you completely.

To wiggle your way our of this test is cowardly and shows that you have no resolve to rise to challenges offered to you. Think of the rest of your life and how events in high school might prepare you for that. If you try to find a way out of this test, what does that say about your ability to go “above and beyond”? Do you think that’s going to help you do better once you get into your career field?

Taking on challenges right now, trying to find your own reasons for completing tasks, finding your own meaning in life, those are the things that will help you define who you are. Those are the things that will tell you what kind of a person really exists inside of you. If you try to get out of this test, not because you disagree with it on principal, but just because you are lazy and “don’t want to,” think about what that says about you. Would you hire someone who is lazy and “doesn’t want to”? I sure wouldn’t.

Our school will be judged by how well or how poorly you perform on the STAR tests. If you do a horrible job on the tests, people will think that our school doesn’t know how to teach and that the teachers don’t know what they are doing. People will think that our school is a terrible place to send their children and they will rebel.

The possibility exists that our school will close down due to your poor performance on the STAR tests. All of your teachers, both your most hated and favorite ones, will lose their jobs and your alma mater will no longer exist. In an extreme case, it will be torn down to the ground, likely with a small shopping mall built on top of the rubble. And that mall will be filled with shops that you have no use for, places like “Sew City,” “Teacups-R-Us,” and “Ronald’s Fine Imported Rugs.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll view the STAR testing. Just remember this: whether or not you take the test seriously means the difference between being proud to have graduated from our school or being embarrassed. If you do well on STAR, holding a diploma from our school will be a badge of honor, a symbol that you’ve made it through the instruction of teachers who know their job and who have instructed you well. If you blow off the STAR, a diploma from our school won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on and you’ll be made fun of for having attended such an awful school.

I, for one, hope that you take the tests seriously. Yes, it’s a big game and it really doesn’t mean anything. I’m sorry to report that this will not be the last time you come across a situation like that, for there are lots of games out there that you simply must play if you want to get anywhere in life. But I can’t help respect anyone of you who makes the decision to not take this test seriously because you realize the impact of the test on your life.

Don’t shrug off STAR testing because it’s the cool thing to do. There are reasons to take the test seriously and reasons to ignore it. Just choose wisely and choose with purpose.


1. Debbie says:

[4/10/2006 - 6:04 pm]

What about the parents of our students, who feel that their students have no reason to take the test?

2. Laurie says:

[4/10/2006 - 6:53 pm]

You are knocking me out with your writing lately. Smart and on point. I think this proves the to be a good writer you must write.

3. Todd says:

[4/10/2006 - 8:27 pm]

Debbie, to those parents I might send this same letter. The same rationale applies. They are right; their students have no (immediate) reason to take the test. But writing a letter to get their kid out of taking the test is just as cowardly as the student who “doesn’t want to.”

Aw, shucks, Laurie… you’re making me blush. I’m just glad that folks are enjoying this.

4. AP US History Student says:

[4/18/2006 - 9:04 pm]

You said that lazily blowing of the test is a path one might follow in life. I challenge you to name a “challenge” in post-schooling life, that of which has absolutey no reward or punishment….

5. Todd says:

[4/23/2006 - 7:29 pm]

Answering your challenge is one such… well… challenge. If I ignore your request, I suffer nothing. If I write a fantastic response to you, I win nothing. But that’s just one.

Learning Japanese simply because you want to is another. Assigning your classes 8 instead of only 6 pieces of formal writing is yet another. Deciding to play Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 long enough to pass the final challenge with that last skater is still another. Think about it; those challenges that have absolutely no reward or punishment are all around you.

We’re talking about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re looking for extrinsic motivation for every challenge you rise to, you will find yourself in rather sad shape very soon. To meet challenges that arise as a result of intrinsic motivation is the key to constantly becoming better at everything you do. That’s my whole point here and the STAR could be the beginning of that realization if you choose to let it be.

6. Cortney says:

[4/24/2006 - 3:19 pm]

Um, How do we know if we’re ready?? Some people get really nervous, and since some people are so nervous, they panic and fail. Is there anything they might be able to do to help them relax during the test?? Any suggestions for them on how to study??

7. Corky says:

[4/24/2006 - 3:38 pm]

What Cortney said above, is kind of what I’m like. I get really nervous when it comes to these tests, and I want to know what I can do to help myself relax for it, and be prepared and not worry so much too. I’m the type who worries a lot, so when it comes to tests like these, I fail because I freak out and can’t remember anything I’ve learned. Is there anything I can do to help myself calm down to where I wont forget what I’ve learned? That way I can pass the test like I should?

8. Todd says:

[4/24/2006 - 7:44 pm]

Hrm… That’s a pretty tall charge. The good news is that dealing with stress like this can be practice for dealing with the stress of really serious things like the SAT, ACT, AP tests, or job interviews. But it’s just practice for those things, so ease up on yourself a bit. Good night’s sleep, complete breakfast, drink lots of water, those things honestly do help out, as trite as they may sound.

It seems to me that it all boils down to the person’s outlook on such a test. You do have to remember that, as AP History Student points out, there really is no punishment on this. Yeah, you freak out naturally, but maybe by thinking of what you stand to gain or lose from a situation, you can calm yourself down. If the STAR is all about you seeing where your performance is, how good you are, and nothing more than that, then freaking out over it doesn’t help the cause any. To realize that all you have to gain is a better understanding of where your skills are and you stand to lose absolutely nothing, relax because in the end it doesn’t matter too much. To stress out over this is to simply ensure that you won’t perform as well as you know you can.

As far as studying and being prepared for tests like this, glancing at the released test questions wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Really, looking at released test questions for just about any standardized test would be a good idea since so much of these tests is all about preparing to take tests, in the most general sense, and not about the specific content being tested.

Remember to breathe. Focus on your breaths, relax your mind, and feel confident that you can only do the best you can do. To do any less would be letting yourself down. Don’t let yourself down. Anyone else have some ideas on this? Man, I write way too much…