Brown not backing away from decision to suspend state standardized tests

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday defended the state’s decision to suspend state standardized tests this year and instead offer students a practice test in the Common Core standards that’s now being developed. And he gave no sign of steering away from a collision with the federal government over this issue.

“I feel that a test based on a different curriculum does not make a lot of sense,” he said during a news conference in Oakland. “We are investing $1 billion to adopt Common Core.”


Gov. Jerry Brown leaves an Oakland press conference about training high school students to build video games on Sept. 16, 2013. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource


Update: State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson acknowledge that state would not qualify for a test waiver.


The source of the conflict is Assembly Bill 484, which the Legislature approved last week and Brown has promised to sign. By requiring that every district capable of administering a computer-based test give students a Common Core field or practice test next spring, the bill will put California out of compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law. NCLB mandates annual testing in state standards in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 in math and English language arts in order to measure schools’ and individual students’ performance. The field test will not produce results for federal accountability. Its purpose is to help the test developers create a valid assessment on the new standards in 2015, when California and other states would formally introduce it.

But Brown, who was at the Oakland School for the Arts, the charter school he founded, indicated the sky wouldn’t fall if schools went a year without test results for accountability purposes. “We’ve had test results for 12 years,” he said.

Turning to the school’s executive director, Donn Harris, Brown asked, “Can you handle a year without test results? I’m not worried.” Harris agreed that the school has mas many ways, beside standardized tests, to evaluate how students are performing.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an advocate of the Common Core standards, has acknowledged the usefulness of the field test and said he would exempt schools, comprising up to 20 percent of a state’s enrollment, from also taking their state tests.

But California will be pressing the issue by seeking a waiver for most districts from state tests in those grades. Those districts without the technology to administer the computer-based field test would give neither the old test under state standards nor the Common Core test – one reason for Duncan’s opposition. The State Board of Education earlier this month authorized Board President Michael Kirst to work with the state Department of Education on the waiver request and handle negotiations with Duncan’s staff.

In an unusual move a day before the Legislature was to vote on AB 484, Duncan issued a clear threat to penalize California if it passed the bill. But he was ambiguous about what the state would have to do to qualify for a statewide waiver, and after the Legislature approved the bill anyway, he turned more conciliatory.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, published Monday, Duncan called fining the state “a last resort.”

“We want to be flexible, we want to be thoughtful,” Duncan told the newspaper. “We don’t want to be stuck. There are lots of different things happening across the country. I don’t want to be too hard and fast on any one of these things because I have not gone through every detail, every permutation.”

Duncan also praised Brown for providing substantial money for teacher training and technology needed to teach and test the Common Core. “I give the governor tremendous credit,” Duncan said. “He’s put real resources behind that.”

Brown in Oakland framed the disagreement over testing as part of the state’s larger effort, through the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula, to move control over education from Washington and Sacramento to local school districts. And he hearkened back to a much earlier era as evidence. “How did we win World War II?” he asked rhetorically. “How did we do before the federal government intruded in education?”

Brown was in Oakland on Monday to support Project A-Game, a $450,000 program funded by The California Endowment and the Entertainment Software Association, in which students in Oakland and Sacramento will learn about careers in the lucrative computer arts industry and create their own video games. The governor praised the effort to help students make the connection between math and science and electronic media. Students at the East Oakland neighborhood center Youth Uprising  piloted the program.

John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him and sign up for his tweets @jfenster.



Filed under: Common Core, State Education Policy, STEM, Testing and Accountability


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6 Responses to “Brown not backing away from decision to suspend state standardized tests”

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  1. John Smith on Mar 20, 2014 at 7:40 am03/20/2014 7:40 am

    • 000

    I have recently taken the ACT. I believe standardized tests are misleading and inaccurate. They are also anxiety provoking and unfair to most kids.

  2. @ClassroomSooth on Sep 19, 2013 at 8:18 pm09/19/2013 8:18 pm

    • 000

    let’s be clear about for whom this test is NOT practice: the students. No stakes should be tied to testing, and a one year moratorium staves off an attack against public schools, sure, but still does no justice for the students who have to take the tests.

  3. Doug McRae on Sep 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm09/19/2013 8:01 pm

    • 000

    “I feel that a test based on a different curriculum does not make a lot of sense.” Governor Brown quote from news conference on Sept 16.

    But, the STAR tests are NOT based on a curriculum, they are based on content standards. In California, we have state adopted content standards, and then statewide supports [state approved curriculum frameworks, state adopted textbooks] for curricula that are ultimately determined by local school districts. Curriculum and instruction in California, unlike some other states, are indeed decided at the local level, per the principle of subsidiarity that Gov Brown likes to cite. Tests are based on standards, and those tests need to measure the content part of WHAT we want kids to know, and not measure the HOW kids are being taught because the HOW variable is ultimately the product of local district curriculum decisions, and the tests need to be fair to all the local curricula decided by local districts. If statewide tests are designed to measure one particular HOW, then the statewide testing mandate is being used to leverage statewide influence for that one particular curriculum, and to create in effect a statewide curriculum. The folks in the trenches for the development of statewide instructional supports for the common core know these distinctions well, and they have briefed the state board and state superintendent many times that what they do is not developing curricula for local districts, but rather curriculum is the responsibility of local districts. Perhaps the SSPI and state board advisors to the Governor need to brief the Governor so that we are all on the same page on this issue.

    Assuming we all agree that the STAR tests are based on state adopted standards (the 1997 standards) rather than a statewide curriculum, then the question is how do the 1997 standards relate to the new common core standards. Most experts say the two sets of content standards are pretty comparable in content and rigor. Thus, it simply follows that STAR tests can serve as a reasonable proxy for measuring the common core until new tests to more specifically measure the common core are ready for statewide use. Governor Brown’s quote above sounds like it makes sense on the surface, but when one digs down into how curriculum and instruction is delivered here in California, the quote and the rationale behind the quote breaks down.


    • Martie on Oct 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm10/2/2013 12:28 pm

      • 000

      The old standards and Common Core standards are comparable in rigor and content, but the tests are NOT the same at all. Rather than the single answer choice of the old test (in which you can give a guess), the Common Core exams require students to have a far better understanding of the material than even currently proficient students may be able to demonstrate. There are two to three choices per question, instead of just one. Students must be able to explain their reasoning in writing, and match multiple models to equations. In short, the Common Core tests will be harder. In order to do well on them, students must be exposed to teaching that is both better AND different. Same standards; different expectations.

  4. Richard Moore on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:58 am09/17/2013 11:58 am

    • 000

    A billion dollars would put a school librarian in every school in California, fund the book budgets for those schools, and start education programs at state colleges to train new librarians. But that would HELP students and that is NOT what this fuss is about, is it?

  5. Jerry Heverly on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:38 am09/17/2013 11:38 am

    • 000

    I read in a book recently that 14% of the men who went ashore on DDay had a high school diploma or better.

    ” The field test will not produce results for federal accountability. Its purpose is to help the test developers create a valid assessment on the new standards in 2015.”
    Governor, Smarter Balanced is already doing this. I can show you some sample items.

    “requiring that every district capable of administering a computer-based test give students a Common Core field or practice test next spring, “.
    Do we know how they will decide which districts have sufficient technology? How do I know if my school or district is ‘capable’?

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