STAR test Fails in every way

The STAR test and No Child Left Behind are ruining education because they

  • reduce the amount and quality of teaching
  • are expensive
  • stress everyone out
  • are inaccurate and are becoming more so as student resentment grows

If I’m preaching to the choir, you can skip the rest. If you want to read the reasons in more depth, keep reading.

The STAR test is a standardized test in California that along with No Child Left Behind is ruining education. The idea behind the test was to show which schools were doing a good job and to be able to find and improve schools that were not. Instead of improving schools which were doing a bad job of educating students, it has lowered the level of education for all students in elementary through high school.

How has it lowered the level of education? The test results are used in such punitive ways that teachers feel compelled to teach to the test. They sometimes spend months teaching the materials on the test, and multiple-choice test-taking itself. This is to the detriment of other subject matter, such as creative projects. Since the tests are multiple choice, it encourages teaching that “one right answer” mentality, while taking time away from creative assignments. Teachers teach best when they teach the materials they feel passionately about, but the STAR test makes everyone teach to the test. On top of it all, students have to spend time taking the tests, which go an for days, instead of learning.

Complying with No Child Left Behind was supposed to bring money to schools. Instead, it’s much more expensive to comply with then the amount of money it brings from the federal government.  All this testing and administration costs the schools money which could be better spent other ways.

The STAR test is meant to be a test of the schools and teachers. It is not an accurate test, because right off the bat disadvantaged students don’t don’t test as well as advantaged ones.  Each student’s performance is influenced by all the teachers he or she had previously, so an individual teacher’s contribution is hard to measure.  The punitive ways of using the scores encourage teachers to teach the students who start out with the most advantages and probably have smaller class sizes.  The weighting system for students who are mentally disabled or learning English don’t really make sense.

Teachers, administrators, and students have a lot of anxiety because of this test. STAR test are also part of a student’s permanent record and can be used as a basis for course selection or for the Gifted Program.  There isn’t much of a Gifted Program anymore because there is no money for it. There is a great joke about No Child Left Behind football analogy. (This is all over the internet, here’s one version.) Sadly, it’s true. Gifted kids are given no help, and are often bored and start to hate school.

The whole assumption of the test is that it is an accurate and objective test in which all the students try their best. After years of taking these tests, many students resent them. They know that for the most part, their performance won’t affect their academic grades. They don’t have any real motivation to try hard. Last year my eighth grader decided he was going to just fill in random bubbles quickly so he could finish early and read his book.  He didn’t like his school or teacher all that much and didn’t care if it reflected badly on them.  (He probably would have been much happier in a gifted program if there had been one.)  I didn’t have many good arguments for why he should try hard and ended up bribing him to do his best.  Apparently, many other students also have the same idea of filling in random bubbles to finish the test early.

This year his high school tried to combat apathy by telling the students that their STAR scores would be counted as part of their academic grades. This is problematic because the test could have materials on it that their teachers hadn’t taught them, so it isn’t fair to grade students down for it. Another problem is that the scores don’t come out until the middle of the summer, after the grading period is over.  The school said they would adjust the grades after the fact. Then, they said that individual teachers could decide if they wanted to count the STAR tests or not.

This is a huge mess, because using the STAR scores as part of the students grade is a misuse of the test. On the other hand, it’s not fair to judge the school and teachers when the students don’t take the test seriously.  A parent can legally request that their child not be tested. Once again, it hurts the school.

The best solution is for the district and state to refuse to do STAR tests and No Child Left Behind (aka No Child Gets Ahead or No Child Left Untested).

 

Don’t Mess With Tables – Pure CSS Fixed-Header Left-Aligned Tables

See the Demo Page for examples and view the source for markup and CSS.

Update 9/3/13: I just added Zupa’s suggestion to the demo.

I am working on a project with a requirement for fixed-headers tables (the headers don’t scroll but the body does) which expand to fit the width of the page. We were using a JavaScript plugin which had to be called every time a page was loaded or resized. Last week one of the tables needed to have a second table within it, and I looked into CSS alternatives without JavaScript.

If you’ve ever tried to keep a table header fixed while letting the body scroll, you will find out that many solutions take the “stretch” out of the width of the table.  Tables are special and different from other HTML elements.  Browsers look at the table’s contents and then calculate from the inside out.  After much frustration, I decided not to mess with tables.

My solution is to mess with divs inside of tables. I took the divs inside the th and gave them “position: absolute; top: 0;“.  That pulls the div straight up to the top of the outer container and out of the flow of the table.  The rest of the table is a normal table and continues happily along.  The header divs retain the top left coordinate from the table, and you can even resize the page and see them shift with the columns. Unfortunately, the header divs completely loose the width they got from the th container.

My solution is a table with a scrolling body but fixed header, no JavaScript, and variable width and height.  Should you use this method? It all depends on the style of your table headers.

CONS:

  • All the problems are in the header styles.
  • No right or center aligned headers (unless you do something to set column width and hack the headers).
  • No using the column width in the style.
  • If text in a header is longer then the content in that  column it might look clipped. This is fixed by setting a min-width on the tds or content in that column.
  • The height of the table headers has to be a fixed height.
  • Horizontal scroll bars or really long non-breaking content breaks it (as well as most other methods of making a fixed-header table). (See full post.)

PROS:

  • Other then the table headers, the rest of the table is totally normal and without any hacks.
  • The table has flexible width and height.
  • No JavaScript needed, you can add JavaScript for other stuff if you like.
  • The browser will take care of everything for you on page load and resize.

SUPPORT:

  • It works in IE7+, FF, Safari, and Chrome, and Opera.
  • Some td or content in the tds need a minimum width if the header is wider then the column content.
  • IE6 has some bugs.

The th-inner divs can be styled within themselves, they can be given a fixed width, padding, margin, height, etc.  They just can’t depend on the width of the th, they use the outer container to calculate their width (which isn’t particularly helpful).  There seem to be some bugs in calculation the widths of spans within the divs as well.

I have styled a table using the jQuery plugin Table Sorter written by Christian Bach. (Please see his site for documentation. )  I used my method to keep the headers fixed but styled them to show the sorting.