By the time students graduate high school, they are experts when it comes to filling in bubbles on test forms.
That's one outcome of the state's increased emphasis on test scores. Throughout the school year — and especially in the spring as the year winds down — students say they're bombarded with exams.
"No one really understands what it is for, we just know it's another test we have to take," said Johnny Tran, a senior at Davis High School, of the California Standards Tests.
The CSTs are taken by students in grades two through 11. If this spring's results don't show significant gains, the state Board of Education could force district officials to turn high schools into charter schools, take over operation of the schools or impose other sanctions.
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Teachers are trying to relay those threats to students, urging them to take the tests more seriously.
But unlike the High School Exit Exam or SATs or Advanced Placement tests, CST scores rarely affect students directly because they are primarily a tool for assessing students' progress.
While some students said they're motivated to do well on the CSTs by personal drive, others aren't. Davis High junior Katelin Daugherty said she used the state exams as practice for upcoming tests such as the exit exam.
"A lot of kids just don't care," added friend Alissa Menchaca, another Davis High junior.
Incentives being considered
So in addition to spreading the word about the state tests' importance, administrators are considering incentives for students whose scores reach the all-important "proficient" level. These extra perks could include annual barbecues, homework passes and special cards giving students free or discounted admission to athletic contests and other activities.
Officials are also considering less-popular measures, like lengthening the school day or enrolling some students in Saturday School.
"The fact that our school days could be longer, that should motivate people in itself," said Karina Morales, a Davis High junior.
While educators, politicians and others debate the value of the tests in holding districts accountable, they agree exams are here to stay.
The amount and frequency of tests has increased since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, teachers said. As funding and penalties became more heavily tied to test scores taken each spring, districts started monitoring student's progress throughout the year with tests, essays, speeches and projects. And those are in addition to regular quizzes and tests teachers give to determine students' grades.
"My personal experience, I was used to testing. We were constantly bombarded," said Patrick Ip, a 2009 Modesto High School graduate who is studying political science at the University of Chicago. "(State tests) tell teachers what they already know. We need to create a culture of learning instead of a culture of testing."
For many students, the state, district and class tests add up to burnout, especially in the spring.
"It does get stressful and teachers are constantly testing," said Sonam Virk, a senior at Enochs High School who is the student trustee on the Modesto City Schools Board of Education.
Though certain incentives such as free admission to school events might work for some, many students who won't give any effort aren't the ones attending sporting events, said Daniel Cronin, a sophomore at Davis High.
When Samantha Monter learned that the Modesto City High School District could be taken over by state officials, she said she'd try her best on the state exams.
"I don't know what they're for — I just take them," said the Davis High freshman. "But (knowing the consequences) motivates me. I don't want the school to change. I think the (message is) getting through to students."