Despite looming showdown with feds, Senate passes standardized testing bill

With a handful of Republicans voting no, the state Senate passed legislation Tuesday that moves school districts one step closer to implementing the Common Core standards and the state one step closer to a confrontation with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Assembly Bill 484 now moves to the Assembly and then to Gov. Jerry Brown, whose spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Brown would sign it.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, suspends most standardized tests next spring and swaps the state English language arts and math assessments in grades 3 through 8 and 11 for a non-high-stakes field test for Common Core. Because state tests are required for federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind law, the State Board of Education plans to seek a waiver from Duncan to avoid double testing in those grades and subjects.

Duncan, however, took the unusual step Monday night of warning that he would deny the waiver if AB 484 was approved as written and could penalize the state by withholding an unspecified amount of federal funding. Duncan’s chief spokesman said the likely target would be money the state receives for administering state standardized tests. The state received $30.2 million last year for this, according to the state Department of Education.

Democratic Sen. Roderick Wright calls for passage of AB 484.

Democratic Sen. Roderick Wright urges passage of AB 484.

AB 484 was passed without amendments by a vote of 25-7. With the exception of Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, who called Duncan’s Race to the Top grants “a scam” and said he would “not let Arne Duncan teach my granddaughter,” Duncan’s threat got little mention in the short, vigorous debate on the bill.

Supporters reiterated the prime contention of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson that it’s important to make a clean break from old tests on standards the state no longer teaches and instead to prepare for the new Common Core tests, which will officially be introduced in spring 2015.

“It’s self-evident that you test to what you teach in the classroom,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “We’re in the process of changing what we teach in the classroom.”

Opponents said they, too, support the new Common Core standards but that AB 484 went too far in dismantling the current accountability system. “This guts our testing system,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. “Tests are an objective way our parents can see how our children are performing.” He pointed to a recent PACE-USC Rossier School of Education poll that found two-thirds of parents favor annual testing in every subject.

Republican Sen. Mark Wyand urged going slower, starting with a pilot demonstration of Common Core.

Republican Sen. Mark Wyand urged going slower, starting with a pilot program of Common Core.

Sen. Mark Wyland, R-San Diego, suggested that instead of suspending testing, the state should start with a pilot program for Common Core. “As good as the Common Core standards are, they are not quite ready to be implemented as broadly as we would like,” he said, pointing to the lack of curriculums and the unfinished Smarter Balanced assessments.

Republicans weren’t alone. On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of the architects of the No Child Left Behind law, also came out in opposition to the bill for the same reason.

“Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” Miller said in a statement. “Additionally, maintaining a focus on achievement is especially critical at this time for English Learners and students with disabilities.”

AB 484 lays out a plan for redesigning the state testing system, beginning with a skeleton offering next spring that will disrupt the Academic Performance Index, the system of measuring school achievement. Only the high school exit exam and science tests in three grades, required by federal law, would survive. It could be three to five years before the state reintroduces an Algebra I or Geometry test, creating a big gap in information on student achievement in those and other subjects.

The field test for the Common Core standards, an online test being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium for California and two dozen other states, would be offered in those districts with the capacity to offer a computer-based test. A field test isn’t designed to produce scores for individual students or perhaps even schools; its purpose is to serve the needs of test developers. Results could not be used for state accountability purposes.

Quandary over field test waiver

Recognizing the need for an accurate and valid test in 2015, Duncan announced in June that he would consider an exemption from administering state assessments to those schools offering the field test next spring. Schools that didn’t offer the field test would continue to administer state tests, as demanded by federal law.

What Duncan objected to is California’s plan. Those districts without enough computers for the field test would give no English language arts or math test. Torlakson argues that there’s no point in making these districts, which he predicts will be a low percentage of the total, take the old state test, just for the sake of it. They should be focusing their energy on Common Core, he said.

And students in districts offering the field test would get either the math or English language arts part of the test, not both. Districts that want to offer both could do so, but they’d have to pay half the tab.

Bonilla said legislators were wary about overloading districts by requiring that they give both parts of the field test. Having one-half of students take each test will reveal what districts need to know about areas of improvement, she said.

Whether Duncan will punish California for demanding its own way will be determined in coming months. The State Board of Education has assigned President Michael Kirst the job of fashioning the specifics of the waiver and negotiating it with the feds.

It’s unclear what state standardized tests will be reintroduced beyond this year and when. California, perhaps in conjunction with other states, must design new science tests aligned with the New Generation Science Standards that the State Board adopted last week. And it will need new high school math tests, which Smarter Balanced is not designing, and computer-based social studies tests, too. The bill requires the state Department of Education to present a master plan to the Legislature by March 2016.

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

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10 Responses to “Despite looming showdown with feds, Senate passes standardized testing bill”

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  1. X on Dec 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm12/29/2013 12:16 pm

    • 000

    “I defy teachers”, that from State Senator Bob Huff. I recently asked Huff a series of questions related to education, Common Core, and political gamesmanship. Stubbornly holding to illogical conclusions, such as teachers teach groups and class sizes do not matter, reveals a lot about State Senator Huff.

  2. Skeptic on Sep 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm09/12/2013 7:35 pm

    • 000

    Question for EdSource: “Districts that want to offer both could do so, but they’d have to pay half the tab.” What is the tab per student?


    • Morrigan on Sep 13, 2013 at 8:47 am09/13/2013 8:47 am

      • 000

      For all of the current tests, CA is paying about $13.00 per student (EdSource’s claim, but I get a slightly smaller number when I do the basic numbers–a little over $10.00 per student; but they might be other costs I do not know about). However, each test has a different price tag attached to it. The ELAs are a little more money due to length and copyrights. Currently, CA is paying about 42 million (but probably a lot more if we include data services for disaggregation).

      The Smarter Balance tests are $22.50 per student. Additional costs may go for teacher materials. And to give the tests with paper and pencil will cost more, too. The Smarter Balance tests will cost taxpayers about $139,500,000 if we do not factor in those additional costs. We will be looking at an almost $100 million increase over the CSTs.

      So basically, this transitional time frame may end up costing Californians even more money if they do not get it right (consider adding the Smarter Balance price tag to the CST price tag; that’s 181 million dollars). AB 484 does a decent job trying to balance all of the factions while trying to keep costs manageable.

      People wonder why educational spending has increased so much in the last 20 years. This is one reason why.

      • el on Sep 13, 2013 at 9:10 am09/13/2013 9:10 am

        • 000

        There is an additional cost to the exams which is the time of an administrator to manage them and schedule them. For our small school, I had an administrator estimate it took about 40 hours to do all the test-related tasks. Since admin staff has been cut back so hard, sometimes we have ‘outsourced’ this to a retired former staff member since it’s a nice self-contained task.

        Tangentially, as far as educational spending increases go, something that is usually overlooked is how much the ridiculously high cost of health care and health care services has been invisibly eating education budgets, especially compared to other nations.

      • navigio on Sep 13, 2013 at 9:17 am09/13/2013 9:17 am

        • 000

        Since tests ostensibly exist explicitly to close the achievment gap, it seems it would be valid to pay for the costs of testing from LCFF supplemental grants. This of course leaves more affluent districts in somewhat of a quandary since they will get little to none of that type of funding. But to be honest, we already know how those kids do. If the tests truly are statically curriculalrly aligned, there should be no problem giving the tests to our disadvantaged subgroups only.

        • Manuel on Sep 13, 2013 at 9:51 am09/13/2013 9:51 am

          • 000

          Wait, navigio, don’t we already do that? I mean, no private school gives these tests, so aren’t our most advantaged groups already not taking the tests?

          Oh, wait, do you mean that we should give the tests only to those eligible for Title I or Title III?

          You are asking for trouble, my friend.

          Our politicians will never admit that the testing is done only so that we can identify those achieving lower. OTOH, since nobody has really done much about helping them achieve higher scores (not because they haven’t tried, mind you), what’s the point of the test, anyway? Oh, the conundra…

  3. el on Sep 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm09/11/2013 12:28 pm

    • 000

    Just because I like to inject this particular perspective… at 14 years old that means we had exactly two K-12 classes go through their entire school careers under this particular arrangement of exams. I was going to say “curriculum and exams” but I’m pretty sure most schools have had curriculum changes during this time; certainly our district has adopted new curricula in this period.

  4. navigio on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:02 am09/11/2013 10:02 am

    • 000

    Several of Lieu’s Democratic colleagues also offered arguments in support of the bill, including San Diego Sen. Marty Block who said, “This bill supports testing that assesses what we want our children to know now, not what we wanted them to know 20 years ago.”‘ (from another story).

    Ok, now things get problematic. If our legislators truly believe we are teaching ’20 year old stuff’, and the fact that its 20 years old makes it completely irrelevant then where have they been all this time?! What has their inaction been doing to our kids?
    And please, oh please tell me that the only reason we have kept a 20 year old curriculum is NOT so that we have something that makes our tests valid.

    Wag the dog?!


    • Manuel on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:26 am09/11/2013 11:26 am

      • 000

      The good senator from San Diego is misinformed, navigio. The California Standards that allegedly form the basis for the CST items for English were adopted on July 1999 and for math on December 1997. That would make them 14 and 16 years old, respectively.

      To my admittedly non-professional knowledge (in English, at least), our language and math foundations have not changed much in those years. And I seem to recall being told that these standards were one of the best in the nation. So why so quick to condemn them? Because they are not shiny and new and adhere to the latest edu-babble?

      Ah, but it is politics so they have to find a way to justify what they are doing. But, please, don’t think that I am not defending the CSTs. I am defending the standards, but if they now know they were so bad, what have they been doing these past years?

      There is no honesty in this den of thieves… (or is that too harsh?)

      • navigio on Sep 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm09/11/2013 12:13 pm

        • 000

        Unfortunately I do not think it is too harsh. Someone is making a lot of money off of all this confusion. I sincerely hope that is not the only reason this is happening.

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