Duncan threatens repercussions if California ends state tests for all students

If in doubt, ask Arne Duncan himself next month.

Secretary Arne Duncan

It looks like “High Noon” again for California and the Obama administration over education.

Hours before a key vote in the Legislature, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has warned California not to administer a partial practice or field test on the Common Core standards to some students in lieu of giving the existing tests on state standards to all students next spring – or face consequences.

“If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law,” Duncan said in a statement released Monday night, “the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state.”

Duncan was reacting to Assembly Bill 484, pushed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, which calls for immediately ending most state standardized tests, including those required by the No Child Left Behind law for federal accountability: English language and math tests for 3rd through 8th grades and grade 11. Students in districts capable of offering the computer-based field test for Common Core would take either the English language arts or math test, but not both, under the bill.

Deputy State Superintendent Deb Sigman said last week that the state has money to pay for only one of the tests; districts could offer both, on their nickel, she said. However, districts without the technical capacity – enrolling a small proportion of students, the state predicts – would not be required to offer any English language or math tests, since a field test by paper and pencil is not one of the options. Sigman has estimated that each field test would cost about $5.50 per student or about $18 million for the 3.3 million California students who’d be tested.

AB 484, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was negotiated with the Brown administration, legislative leaders, and Torlakson’s staff over the last month. The state Senate is expected to vote on it today. All bills for this session must be passed by Friday.

Duncan announced in June that, in order to avoid burdening states with double testing, he would consider exempting schools giving the Common Core field test from also administering their state tests. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing the Common Core tests for California and two dozen other states, has said it needs to test 10 percent of students in math and 10 percent in English in order to create a valid and reliable assessment in 2015. California is a governing member of Smarter Balanced. Last week, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to seek a field test waiver for California under the terms of AB 484.

Sigman and other state officials said last week they had been discussing a waiver with federal officials, while acknowledging, pending legislation passing, it was premature to predict they would get it. Duncan’s statement didn’t state that a waiver for a field test-for-all was out of the question. Four other smaller states – Montana, Idaho, Connecticut and North Dakota – also have requested a waiver to give every student the Common Core field test, Massie Ritsch, the Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for communications and outreach, said Monday. While his statement was not explicit, Duncan appeared to object that some California students would take no test required by federal law, while others would take a partial test.

“In states like California that will be field-testing more sophisticated and useful assessments this school year, the Department has offered flexibility to allow each student to take their state’s current assessment in English language arts and math or the new field tests in those subjects. That’s a thoughtful approach as states are transitioning to new standards,” Duncan said. “While standards and tests may not match up perfectly yet, backing away entirely from accountability and transparency is not good for students, parents, schools and districts.”

Duncan did not hint at how or how much California would be penalized if it suspends state tests without a federal waiver. Ritsch said the federal government may withhold money it gives the state for testing and perhaps other funding.

Torlakson, however, was unfazed and indicated he had no plans to amend the bill to meet the conditions of a waiver it has not yet sought, spokesman Paul Hefner said Monday night. “California has yet to receive guidance from the feds as to what would be acceptable,” said Hefner. The state had no inkling Duncan’s statement was coming, he said.

Torlakson defended plans to make a clean break this year from giving state tests on old standards and instead to pursue “goals for 21st century learning.”

“We won’t reach them by continuing to look in the rear-view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington,” he said, responding to Duncan. “We look forward to the opportunity to make our case to the Administration when the time comes. When we do, we hope they agree that withholding badly needed funds from California’s students would be a grave and serious error.”

Los Angeles Unified, Fresno Unified and other districts also had been opposed to AB 484 as written and their superintendents had been pressing Torlakson and state leaders to pay for both the English language arts and math field test for every student, saying it’s inappropriate to burden districts with a state responsibility. “The smart and right thing to do is total access for all kids,” Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy said Monday night. If forced to pay for either part of the field test, LAUSD will bill the state, he said.

Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the advocacy group EdVoice, which has criticized the suspension of state tests under AB 484, praised Duncan’s statement. “By proposing to eliminate testing and information for parents, while hiding behind an empty waiver request, California is conceding it has no substantial Common Core implementation plan. Instead of leadership, California is signaling it is willing to gut accountability and eliminate the ability of local school districts … to gauge the progress of students and track achievement gaps.”

For the past decade, California Standards Tests have been the primary measure of a school’s academic performance and of the achievement gap by low-income and minority students. Individual student scores have been provided to parents. Because the primary purpose of the Common Core field test is “to test the test,” there would be no individual scores given, Sigman told the State Board last week. And it is unclear to what extent schools would receive results as well, she said.

But for districts the new, more challenging tests would be the first indicator of how they’re faring with the new standards and of students’ capability to take a test on computers. They also would provide a dry run of the technology that schools will need in place a year later. Deasy said the results of the field tests would be used “without stakes or consequences” for teachers and schools but would very useful information nonetheless.

Whether Duncan’s statement is the height of federal meddling or a valid preemptive effort to avoid a conflict, it’s the latest clash over differences in policy and personality. Gov. Jerry Brown has been a caustic critic of federal testing and interventions under No Child Left Behind and he refused to consent to the state’s application in the Race to the Top competition. He also declined this year to seek a state waiver from No Child Left Behind, notwithstanding its potential benefits, on the grounds that it would further entangle California in commitments involving teacher evaluations.


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51 Responses to “Duncan threatens repercussions if California ends state tests for all students”

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  1. sherry skelly griffith, ACSA on Sep 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm09/10/2013 8:30 pm

    • 000

    John – Ed Source got this completely wrong about superintendents and other administrators. WE are in full support of AB 484. You don’t change the tires on the car while its moving and you certainly don’t test kids on standards you are not teaching to. AB 484 is about capacity building and supporting our teachers to ready for 2015. You should check with other district superintendents across the state before assuming they have the same position as LAUSD. Sherry, ACSA


    • John Fensterwald on Sep 11, 2013 at 12:23 am09/11/2013 12:23 am

      • 000

      I was referring to those districts that supported the Common Core field test but opposed the bill because it called for reimbursing districts for either the math or English language arts test, not both. I assume you are right: Most administrators, including those in the districts I just mentioned, support ending the current state tests.

  2. Chris Stampolis on Sep 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm09/10/2013 6:54 pm

    • 000

    Manuel, you claim there never is over 60% proficiency.

    That is an incorrect and unsupportable claim. Some schools show high math proficiency for SED, ELL, low PEL Latino Title One kids. Other schools show low proficiency.

    When 2/3 or more at a school show below basic or far below basic in Algebra 1, that’s valuable data for a school board and the public to know. Successes are equally valuable to note.


    • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:13 pm09/10/2013 7:13 pm

      • 000

      Manuel’s claim is for statewide.

      My sense of what I’ve seen of schools that are successful more successful than the mean with low income and title one kids are that they are in relatively wealthy neighborhoods and the kids are very stable where they are – IE, they come to school and they don’t change schools often; the kids feel safe in their neighborhood and their home. The wealthy neighborhood contributes donations, resources, mentors, and volunteers. That’s a great strategy but it’s hard for a school to replicate.

      I’m always interested to see case studies and examples of the exceptions, and think most everyone I’ve met in education is interested in improving their schools and their students. If you think there’s some curricular magic that people are missing, by all means, please share.

    • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm09/10/2013 11:17 pm

      • 000

      Chris, sorry for not having been more specific: the CSTs were designed by taking samples from the entire state for the norm population. The test items were given as “additional questions” prior to full implementation in 2002. 2003 was also a shakedown year (from inspection of the reported scores, IMO). The histograms from of scale scores, reported for bins 30 points wide, have been stable ever since.

      Unless a school is as heterogeneous as the state, one cannot expect its results to present similar histograms. In fact, in order to get the expected Bell Curve, one needs schools to be above and below the mean. Hence, it is not surprising that there exist schools with high levels of proficiency; for example, any highly gifted magnet will fit this pattern. Unfortunately, scores are, on the average, highly correlated with wealthy zip codes.

      As for the Algebra I scores, have you ever seen the score histograms? They are rather informative and you, as a school board member, should ask your staff to show them to you for your district. For starters, they show that not everyone is ready to take Algebra I by the 8th grade. In your district, half of 9th graders took the Algebra I CST in 2013 and only 16% were above proficient. In contrast, 53.5% of 8th graders took the same test and 61% were above proficient. Even more interesting, 16% of 10th graders also took the same test and of those students only 8% were above proficient. These pattern was roughly the same in 2012. And in 2011. Has anything been done in your district to understand why and, more importantly, to change it? Why are these patterns so consistent? Are you willing to state that these results are because of the teachers, the students, or the test?

      I hope that you can take a look at these patterns more in depth than I can. There is much to be learned from the data and it should inform your practice as a board member. And maybe even your work as a member of the Democratic National Committee.

      (BTW, your district is on the small size compared to mine, but please ask your staff to do the following experiment: to plot, as a function of classroom mark, the percent of students in each achievement band in a “stacked bar” display [in other words, the bar above each mark will have regions proportional in size to the percentage of students in each achievement band] for each grade. This was done a few years back for LAUSD and the results were quite interesting. I’ll be happy to share them with you as I am very interested in your opinion. TIA)

  3. Eric Premack on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm09/10/2013 12:14 pm

    • 000

    Richard Moore’s suggestion to consider whether federal funding is worth the hassle is very much worth exploring.

    While the amount of funding is substantial ($1.7 billion/year for Title I alone), the costs are also massive.

    In my experience, many schools and districts, especially small ones spend 1/3rd or more of the Title I grant funding just on the administrative aspects of the program (applications, plans, stakeholder engagement, etc).

    In addition, there are numerous other hidden costs, including, but not limited to:

    1) implementing the absurd program improvement process

    2) using up to 20 percent of Title I funding to pay for contracts with external supplemental instruction providers–many of which are flaky

    3) extensive financial tracking, reporting and audit costs, also including the complex mandated state accounting systems

    4) ancillary data tracking and reporting costs (e.g., collecting and reporting student discipline data)

    5) implementing extremely costly, burdensome, and unproductive “highly qualified” teacher and instructional aide requirements–even for non-recipient schools/districts

    The list is endless. In addition, federal funds come with hundreds of pieces of compliance “red tape” and an associated categorical programs compliance management system/process.

    If one tallied up the real costs of receiving federal funds, the costs could easily exceed the revenues for many schools and districts.


    • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm09/10/2013 12:44 pm

      • 000

      Our district did the math on one of the categories, I think Title III, and said, thanks but no thanks. The cost to receive the funds exceeds their value.

    • Bea on Sep 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm09/12/2013 5:04 pm

      • 000

      Thank you for pointing this out. When a few of our schools tipped into Program Improvement a while back, I looked at these numbers as they applied to our district. At the time just saying no to Title One would have cost our district a net loss of about $400 per student. The benefit would have been tremendous flexibility that would, I think, have yielded a better education for kids.

      The axe that Arne holds over our heads is made of Nerf foam.

  4. fohne on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:31 am09/10/2013 11:31 am

    • 000

    Doctors are in charge of doctors, lawyers are in charge of lawyers but politicians are in charge of education. Sure explains a lot.

  5. Chris Stampolis on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:30 am09/10/2013 11:30 am

    • 000

    Torlakson’s assertion that California is using “outdated tests” cannot be backed up with facts. He packages the cessation of CST as if we must strip store shelves of curdling milk. CST tests have provided good data for many years. Not perfect data, but good data. Cheers for Arne Duncan’s strong words that Federal money will not show up without ongoing California accountability. The CST structure can continue to be administered while the new Smarter Balanced tests are developed.

    Torlakson’s proposal will end classification of Program Improvement schools and the accompanying parent/community rights to demand change. Passage of AB484 effectively will remove schools from “PI” whether or not students have improved student proficiency.

    I am disappointed that many Democratic legislators have not read the full details of AB484, as amended. We should not be advocating against transparency and accountability. Permanently ending state tracking of Algebra 1 proficiency will not assist California students, nor will it aid school board trustees or school district administrators or community leaders who want to close the achievement gap. Yet, after AB 484, California never again will have statewide test data to demonstrate the different Algebra 1 proficiencies of 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade students. We won’t be able to see the achievement gap in plain numbers. Torlakson’s proposal will end this data transparency, opting instead for an aggregate math exam of all 7th graders on the same test, all 8th graders on their same test and, eventually, all 11th graders on the same test – regardless of the achievement level of each student. And, there will be little downside to Districts if some 11th graders do not take the still-to-be-developed high-stakes 11th grade math test. Additionally, some districts will benefit statistically if fewer of their students take the 11th grade test in junior year. Then, those non-examined students never will have taken an Algebra 1 state-administered test.

    AB 484 states that the Academic Performance Index should track “pupil preparedness for college and career,” rather than “narrow focus on pupil test scores.” Of course, one cannot graduate from high school without successful attainment of passing scores on school-administered pupil tests. And, community colleges and many 4-year universities use standardized tests to assess incoming student readiness. Potentially, years from now, that data could be analyzed to determine the preparedness of students from different high schools.

    What Tom Torlakson considers “outdated tests” are not that different from the sample Smarter Balanced tests already uploaded on the CDE website. The current STAR tests are multiple choice. The Smarter Balanced tests are a mixture of “multiple choice, short answer questions, and assessments of applied academic skills” as detailed in proposed 60602(a)(7). Both the old and the new rely heavily on multiple choice. So, why are the current tests so suddenly categorized as “outdated”?

    The real crisis in AB484 is in proposed 60648.5.(a) “The first full administration of assessments aligned to the common core standards in English language arts and mathematics shall occur in the 2014–15 school year unless the state board determines that the assessments cannot be fully implemented.”

    No honest educational leader in California expects new assessements to be “fully implemented” in 2014-15. So, we’ll strettttcccchhhhh out the number of years before “new” tests are “fully” administered. The “unless” clause means there will be no new tests in 2014-15. AB484 is a stalking horse to suspend standardized testing for many years in California – at least at the secondary level.

    The actual Common Core math standards demand automaticity, with a requirement to “attend to precision.” They strengthen what students must learn, while concurrently increasing required memorization. California should keep the current testing system in place while we transition to the new standardized testing system. And, we should maintain tracking of Algebra 1 proficiency – as the gateway to advanced math opportunities. California students need proficiency. Policy makers, administrators and the public need means to track – and then close – our state’s ongoing achievement and opportunity gaps!

    – Chris Stampolis
    Governing Board Member, Santa Clara Unified School District
    Member, Democratic National Committee
    408-771-6858 * stampolis@aol.com


    • Kami on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:55 am09/10/2013 11:55 am

      • 000

      My concern is that content and skills are sequenced differently in Common Core. For example, life science moved from grade 7 to grade 6. My school has switched to Common Core and we are excited about the new assessments’ critical thinking components. However, if you test students on content they haven’t been taught, our scores are bound to go down… We understand that, but I’m not sure I have confidence that the powers that be and the public will understand that.

      • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm09/10/2013 12:48 pm

        • 000

        It’s not just the issue of scores going down and the public relations issues or even the obnoxiousness of Program Improvement status. The kids are not black boxes. It is damaging to the kids to test them on material that they aren’t prepared for. It wastes their time but it also hurts their confidence.

    • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm09/10/2013 12:43 pm

      • 000

      Are there schools where Program Improvement status has actually led to a better experience for students? Actual program improvement? Where you can say, “Because this school went into PI status, this and this mandated intervention occurred and directly led to better results for those same students”?

      I’m also going to take this moment to point out that California tests are fairly demanding. This is not actually a requirement of NCLB, that the tests be anything in particular. We could have taken the path of some other states and basically designed our tests to ensure that all kids tested proficient. IIRC, there’s nothing in the legislation that prevents us from doing this with the new tests, just scale proficient to be near zero, report scores, and all the legal requirements are met.

      • navigio on Sep 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm09/10/2013 1:37 pm

        • 000

        Im not sure it would be possible to tell. 20% diverted to SES is likely to be far outweighed by other factors, such as demographic shift, staff turnover, other program variations, etc. If there is anything PI achieves, it probably never happens after entering PI, rather what a school might do to avoid that classification in the first place.

        Besides, no one takes PI seriously anymore, except from a purely budgetary perspective (note how much ink and air are devoted to that ‘freedom’ in the waiver justifications).

    • Doug McRae on Sep 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm09/10/2013 1:59 pm

      • 000

      Chris: That’s a very good statement on the utility of having data on our schools, imperfect as any data will be. And thanx for pointing out Sec 60648.5 (a) with the “shall occur in the 2014-15 school year UNLESS THE STATE BOARD DETERMINES THAT THE ASSESSMENT CANNOT BE FULLY IMPLEMENTED” language. That language allows for indefinite delay in the initiation of new assessments, an indefinite suspension of API data, not just a one-year hiatus as many folks assume and as the advocates for 484 want folks to believe. This language is why I made a public comment at the SBE meeting last week that “The bottom line is that the underlying debate for AB 484 is a debate on whether to have accountability for our schools in California, and AB 484 is now revealing itself as an anti-accountability Trojan horse in the never ending war on accountability for our public schools.” You called it a stalking horse, I called it a Trojan horse — I’ve seen tests designed for instructional purposes (rather than measuring the results of instruction) undermine accountability in other states and times over the years, so I’ve seen this one coming for quite some time now. It just became crystal clear that it was happening when the amendments for 484 were announced less than 10 days before the end of the legislative session . . . . . I also agree with your description why the STAR tests can be useful data for a responsibe transition to new computerized tests to measure the common core — I’ve been advocating for a slimmed down statewide assessment program for the next several years while we practice and phase-in computerized common core tests, an exercise that I believe will take at least four years.

      • Morrigan on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm09/10/2013 2:57 pm

        • 000

        I really do not think that I can even come close to agreeing with Doug or Chris on the phrasing issue. Just because something MAY turn into a problem, it doesn’t mean that it WILL turn into a problem. Could it be a Trojan Horse? Or could it be a shadow on the wall? We really won’t know until it happens. It is, however, important to be mindful of it.

        If either of Doug or Chris were truly concerned about the “unless” issue, then they should do their part to petition those in the legislature to watch out for it. It appears as if the bill can still be amended. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB484

        What we do know for certain is that some form of transition between the CST and the CCSS needs to occur. I find what Doug suggests is interesting for the transition, but Chris really never offers a suggestion. We must assume that Chris is in favor of keeping the status quo until the change is upon us. After considering the options that have been on the table here, I would rather we get it right in one or two years than throw parents, teachers, and students into a maelstrom of confusing data practices and procedures (as Doug suggests) or barreling ahead with business as usual (as Chris probably implies).

        • Doug McRae on Sep 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm09/10/2013 4:15 pm

          • 000

          Morrigan: John already has one of my documents suggesting a transition plan . . . John, it is my July 3 “Roadmap” document sent to legislative folks after a brief conversation with Bonilla the day after the June 26 hearing on AB 484. That document is in one of the attachments to my Open Letter to the Legislature on AB 484 that John also has. John, maybe you could link at least the Roadmap document if not the entire Open Letter document with its attachments so folks can see some of the background that goes into the AB 484 decision.

          • John Fensterwald on Sep 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm09/10/2013 10:01 pm

            • 000

            Doug: Here is the Road Map you referred to.
            Here is the link to the Open Letter to the Legislature.

            • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:27 pm09/10/2013 11:27 pm

              • 000

              John, you have again been bitten by the Word Press Gremlin Who Lives In The Last Sentence: the effect is that the link is not clickable.

              However, I can read it from the source code: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/785440-ab484roadmap-dougmcrae0713.html.

              Adding another sentence should make the link readable. (Navigio shared the trick in one of his posts and told us that your staff knows about it.)

            • John Fensterwald on Sep 11, 2013 at 7:36 am09/11/2013 7:36 am

              • 000

              Thanks, Manuel. I’ll plead ignorance — Navigio indeed may have told me about this problem — but I will pass it on.

            • Doug McRae on Sep 11, 2013 at 9:37 am09/11/2013 9:37 am

              • 000

              John: Thanx for posting those links. The Roadmap link is a bit dated (July 3), particularly with its emphasis on the need for “old to new” comparability studies that went out the window when AB 484 was amended on Sept 4. The SSPI’s recommendations for new assessments last January included the importance of generating old test to new test comparability (Rec # 11, as I recall) and the version of AB 484 active on July 3 included language calling for “infomation” on old to new scores (that was weak language responding to the SSPI Rec # 11). AB 484 amended Sept 4 took a 180 degree turn — old to new comparability was disparaged in the SSPI presser advocating for the amended 484, and in fact new 484 language now even prohibited local districts from conducting old to new comparability studies. Conducting old test to new test comparability is good standard educational measurement practice for conversions from old to new tests, to address the need to interpret new test results not only on a statewide basis, but also at the local district, local school, and subgroup level. Without old to new comparability data, schools and districts and the media and the general public will have substantial heartburn trying to interpret the new test results. Old to new comparability was done back in 2003 when STAR converted from the Stanford Ach Test to the new CSTs, thus allowing for continuity of API data during that transition. Two states (Kentucky and New York) have funded “early” common core tests in advance of the advertised availability of consortium tests in 2015 — Kentucky included old to new comparability studies in their early version common core test design, and had few difficulties explaining their scores; New York did not include old to new comparability studies in their early version common core test design, and when the results were released this last summer, there was widespread hearburn over the results. The 180 degree reversal on this issue with the Sept 4 amendments will cause substantial heartburn if and when the new common core test results are released, in my estimation perhaps four or so years down the road (if ever).

            • navigio on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:30 am09/11/2013 10:30 am

              • 000

              If the only reason we are hiding results is to prohibit ‘heartburn’, then I say we should make the transparency retroactive. When we release the results in 2, 4 or 10 years, require that all results that were hidden in the meantime be released as well. That makes as much sense as anything else we’re doing.

              That said, honesty is more important than avoiding heartburn. I think its wrong to hide this stuff, regardless of how much heartburn it costs us. Where is the ‘honesty’ that we’ve been hearing about in conjunction with cc? More importantly, its critical that we know whether we are destroying another generation of kids’ aspirations by doing something completely unreasonable. Many parents are going to want the alternative to go private. Not find out in a decade that they should have done that when their kid still had a chance.

            • Manuel on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:08 am09/11/2013 11:08 am

              • 000

              Navigio: they don’t have to go private. All they have to do is opt-out as the Ed Code permits that.

              Some might say “well, how do you know the school is any good if there is no more testing?” To that I would respond how do you know the private school is any good? It doesn’t participate in the STAR program, does it? What are your metrics for the private’s success other than sky-high tuition and small classes?

              When our son was going from middle to high school I was told by a parent that the magnet we chose did not send enough of its students to elite universities and therefore could not be good. I guess I had the last laugh since 2 of my kids went to UCLA and one to UC Davis. Those facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable (or so said Mr. Clemens, I am told).

              As for heartburn, “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, what a relief it is…” 😉

            • el on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:09 am09/11/2013 11:09 am

              • 000

              I don’t actually understand how you can have an honest and meaningful old-to-new comparison, especially when the tests change dramatically in style and in content. In theory, we could say that a score of X on the math exam is comparable to a score of Y on the science exam, but that doesn’t make it an appropriate thing to do, let alone expend resources on.

              At most, I’m not sure it would make sense to do much more than just match percentiles. A score of XXX is 50th percentile on this test and YYY is 50th percentile on that test.

              For example, sure my SAT score is a number and sure the test has the same name, but the test they give today is so different from the one I took that it would be idiotic to compare my scores to scores from this year. When I took it, there was no writing section, and the verbal section was completely different. You can’t tell from my SAT verbal if I would have bombed the writing had it been given.

            • navigio on Sep 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm09/11/2013 12:23 pm

              • 000

              El, I think comparing results from different tests over a decade apart would be more problematic than doing so over adjacent years (or even the same year given that LAUSD argued its 6th and 9th increases in the CST were a result of teaching CC in those grades–they appear to know something no one else knows).

              Manuel, the test itself only takes a week or two out of a child’s school year (well it used to–ive seen proposals to up this to as many as 12 weeks, not including interims), but the entire year is dedicated to teaching to the curriculum to which those tests are aligned. If the fear is the test results will be so bad as to create shock in the parents when they get the once-a-year results, then I cant see how this same shock wont be experienced by the children in our schools who are being presented with that curriculum on a daily basis.

            • Manuel on Sep 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm09/11/2013 2:35 pm

              • 000

              navigio, a kid does not know how “hard” the curriculum will be until they are in the middle of it. If California attempts to implement the CC curriculum as NY has done (thanks, Caroline!), there will be shock all over. But if the curriculum is done as has always been done, that is, making sure that the kid gets it and so on, then it will be OK. The shock will come when they take the test. If what happened in NY happens here, we are in deep trouble and parents won’t be happy when they see their kids having breakdowns and anxiety attacks (el, better make sure you kid has the inhaler!). It will be a mess either way.

    • navigio on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:24 pm09/10/2013 2:24 pm

      • 000

      In 10 years, the achievement gap has not closed. In fact not only has it not even come close to closing, by some measures its even getting worse. I am all for closing the achievement gap, but our current policies do not seem to be doing anything to make that happen. Shouldn’t that matter? Or is being able to monitor this stuff more important than learning?

      Perhaps what the call to arms should changed from closing the achievement gap, but to minimize how much worse it will get. Mhmm…

      • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:47 pm09/10/2013 2:47 pm

        • 000

        And this is the fundamental point.

        What will this monitoring do in the next year or two that will allow us to benefit students that we’re not already doing? Isn’t the point of changing the curriculum and the tests to close that gap and increase achievement? If this is our next action that is meant to have this result, what exactly is the point of measuring the old curriculum and the old tests that we’re discarding?

        That’s a serious question, and not rhetorical. I’d love to hear a good answer.

        Despite my snark, I do appreciate that the tests can help us see weaknesses in schools and in programs and I don’t find them valueless. I have found them useful for posing questions about results – why is this result good, why is this result poor, what can we learn about the program, what can be done better. We just have to remember what the purpose is, why we do them, and remember that they’re only a proxy for what we really want to know.

        I would really like to know why Duncan thinks education in California will be better if he gets his way.

        • navigio on Sep 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm09/10/2013 4:05 pm

          • 000

          I believe one of the assumptions of accountability is that simply measuring something will provide a force toward improvement, or perhaps better put, not measuring something will allow us to slack. That may be one answer to your last question.

          Regarding continuing to measure the old curriculum and tests, there will always be an argument that it is necessary to understand how future results correlate with older ones. At a most basic level, I guess this would allow us to decide whether we made a mistake by changing things. I guess it would also allow us to understand whether something like ‘achievement gap’ is similarly measurable under both systems (remember, thats really the main point of all this accountability anyway). That said, this is leaving aside the question of whether such different curriculum and tests will ever really have a valid comparison to our old ones. Clearly that would be disputable, though I expect the arguments on both sides will largely be political.

          Unfortunately, I am not convinced that our changes in accountability are for any other reason than to bring a new bright and shiny object into view. This may be as a result of an effort to perpetually obscure, or it could just be a tacit admission that we really dont know what we’re doing, so we’ll just try something else. Normally, that would be a bit too cynical even for me, but the fact that these efforts invariably get hitched onto some political momentum makes me wonder. In addition, if you really think about what is happening right now: NCLB 6 years overdue, ‘waivers’ requiring worse punitive measures, CC switching out the entire curriculum and testing scheme underneath NCLB’s AYP, and then on top of that, 2 competing sets of testing efforts, and all this coming to a head in the midst of a recession (are we still in that?) and with wildly changing school demographics. It kind of feels like the educationally political equivalent of a 30 second commercial. whirrr, zzzzipp, pop, wheeeeeze… mmmm, instant gratification. Is this really how we do educational policy?

          If any policy-makers are paying attention, had we had a bit more honesty in the past, it would probably be a lot easier to have these discussions on their merits.

          • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm09/10/2013 4:56 pm

            • 000

            By now you all know that I am not happy about what we in California use to allegedly measure academic achievement. The fact that the number of students above the chosen “proficient” level at any grade level has never, as far as I know, gone over 60% is indicative that there is a problem with these tests or with the way children are taught. Given that the tests are created in secret and nobody in the public can scrutinize them, I more inclined to believe that it isn’t the teachers and their supervisors, who are always under scrutiny by parents, who are responsible for what seems to be very poor performance.

            I’ve been advocating for more than two years that a robust, candid, and informative conversation be conducted on the validity of these tests. It can’t be a “trust us” one-way communication anymore. The Technical Report for 2012 now includes the actual raw test scores together with their conversion to scaled scores. Looking at their histograms suggest many questions to be asked.

            But now that we are rushing headlong into the “new and improved” tests and some call for continuing using the old tests just so we can “compare” them with the new and can keep using the old API, etc., we forget that our tests raise serious questions on their validity as a tool that tells us how well the schools are doing. Yes, we can do comparisons between schools, look at the correlation with poverty, language, etc., but the fact that the proficient levels have never gone over 60% should give us all pause when someone claims that the tests are needed to judge how well schools are doing. To me, it is just not a believable claim.

            When you add the issues that navigio refers to, well, it makes you wonder how well this was thought out. We need better solutions. We can’t keep pretending that only experts, appointed officials, and our legislators can decide how our children should be tested and for what. Our voices must be heard.

            • Gary Ravani on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm09/10/2013 7:50 pm

              • 000

              If you look back at the history of NAEP, where CA borrowed its labeling (below basic, basic, proficient, etc) you will find quite a bit of criticism about how NAEP handled that task from many authorities. Proficient really translates to near “college level.” Some experts have calculated that not even the highest performing nations on the planet would have majorities of students scoring proficient on tests comparable to NAEP. When the SBE (my recollection is Reed Hastings-the video dude-was SBE president at the time) adopted the same labels the CDE warned them they would eventually condemn most schools in CA to be labeled “failing.” The SBE said “full speed ahead,” many of them being big charter school fans.

            • Gary Ravani on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm09/10/2013 7:53 pm

              • 000

              That should be “near college level” readiness at the secondary level. Basic would be “average” level performance where you could reasonably expect, at any level, half the students to be above and half below.

            • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm09/10/2013 11:21 pm

              • 000

              I read many of the SBoE minutes when I was looking at how they came up with the labels for the “achievement bands.” I still can’t believe that these people, with next to no expertise in education could decide the fate of 6 million students who are put through the wringer of the CSTs every year.

              Unbelievable. But, hey, that’s what we got for electing those governors…

    • Gary Ravani on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm09/10/2013 7:38 pm

      • 000

      Actually the STAR data, according to the testing office at CDE, has always been quite unreliable at both ends of of the performance scale. The new assessments may or may not have the same issues.

      • Ann on Sep 11, 2013 at 7:50 am09/11/2013 7:50 am

        • 000

        That’s odd since the data tracks quite well with site based assessments.

        • navigio on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:33 am09/11/2013 8:33 am

          • 000

          But it’s impossible to verify that, right?
          Anyway, I have seen examples where this was clearly not the case (grades that were more than 50 points off the eventual CST result; though I expect that is due more to bad site assessments than CST variability).

          I think cc testing is slated to include at least 2 interim assessments. I wonder whether those will be done in addition to the current site ones.

        • Gary Ravani on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm09/11/2013 3:13 pm

          • 000


          Just reporting comments by CDE representatives in meetings i’ve attended. I do believe ETS considers the data on reliability to be theirs by property right. I don’t blame ETS much for this as the CA authorities picked the lowest bidder to be the test vendor and you get what you pay for.

          And I have no idea how you would know what tracks with the thousands of “site assessments” given up and down the state of CA.

    • Simon on Sep 11, 2013 at 6:58 am09/11/2013 6:58 am

      • 000

      Actually, the data is almos useless. We can’t see the questions, thus we can’t tell which questions students missed and can’t analyze anything about why they might have missed those items. We can’t measure the validity of the test and can’t use the data to improve teaching because we have no idea whether the questions actually aligned to the curriculum we purchased. It is all just a black box. Other than producing anxiety and confusion, the tests serve no real purpose. We don’t even get the results until the following school year.
      On top of that, schools and teacher are being punished for the results of their students. Now, take an ELL population or special Ed students, give them a test that is nowhere near their level, and you will get nothing of value as far as data goes. If you use local measurements of growth with test that are crafted specifically for your population, you will get actionable data.

      • Manuel on Sep 11, 2013 at 11:15 am09/11/2013 11:15 am

        • 000

        Thank you, Simon, for confirmation from the trenches.

        Way back, I decided to check the information available to parents on how to get their students to do better in the CSTs. Nothing but platitudes.

        Then I found out that the test could not be looked at by anyone other than the test maker and the Legislators. Then I generated the histograms and it is all, as you say, a black box, rendering the test useless to teachers and parents all in the name of “test security.” (Speaking of that, did you hear about the infamous “pineapple’s don’t have sleeves” item in Pearson’s New York tests?)

        It is all about “trust us, we know what we are doing and we have the best interests of children in mind.”

        “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…”

        • Gary Ravani on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm09/11/2013 3:15 pm

          • 000


          Allow me to confirm this definitively: Pineapple do not have sleeves!

          • Manuel on Sep 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm09/11/2013 4:22 pm

            • 000

            But it was supposed to be “never bet on an eggplant”!!

            (Yes, that’s a misuse of an apostrophe. Train of thought got derailed. But at this point, maybe it did have an apostrophe in the original item. It was so muddled anyway and I really feel Pinkwater’s pain.)


  6. Richard Moore on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:21 am09/10/2013 11:21 am

    • 000

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if California had the courage to say NO to federal dollars?


    • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:40 am09/10/2013 11:40 am

      • 000

      It might happen.

      All it would take would be for Brown, Torlakson and the Legislature to find some, ahem, intestinal fortitude and tell Duncan (and Obama, because he is ultimately responsible for this mess) to take their money and shove it.

      If that happens it would be ironic that the bluest state has done what the reddest states only bluff about.

      One can dream, no?

      OTOH, think of the political consequences. It will turn everything upside down. If that happens, pass the popcorn!

  7. el on Sep 10, 2013 at 8:40 am09/10/2013 8:40 am

    • 000

    Duncan has been using his lever to try to get states to adopt Common Core all this time. Heaven forfend anyone actually do so.

    As to “how the kids are doing”… reality is that they’re going to be doing about the same as they were last year, because that’s pretty much how the results always turn out.

    Since people like numbers, I’m sure we can come up with a nice formula that takes last year’s score and introduces a variance that is a function of the student ID number and report nice new scores to everyone. Problem solved.

    Show me where Duncan has been advocating for the funding we need to give computer based assessments. Tell me how withholding Title 1 and other federal funds will improve education.


    • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:20 am09/10/2013 11:20 am

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      Oh, el, you are so jaded about the good that’s come from testing. Don’t you know we need to know how our kids are doing in school? So what the CSTs have not increased the number of students getting into UC? So what that the CSTs have not increased the number of jobs high-school graduates get?

      We need the tests!! Please, Mr. Duncan, makes take the tests!!

      (Indeed, holding ESEA funds is going to improve education. Actually, they might be doing us a favor: California districts won’t rely on these funds to supplement their budgets and will have to start paying for those programs from local or state funds. And if there is less testing, there might actually be some learning!)

      • el on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm09/10/2013 12:49 pm

        • 000

        Are people in the city still howling about their straight A high achieving students not being able to get into UC schools? Amazing that with all these years of testing, it doesn’t create more freshman admission slots.

        • Manuel on Sep 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm09/10/2013 1:49 pm

          • 000

          Oh, el, you missed the unwritten “sarcasm” switch. :-)

          That’s what my point is: the CSTs do not affect anything that truly matters. They are just an excuse to gang up on public schools as everything else just goes on as before, specially creating more freshman admissions slots. That costs a lot of money as Yudof told us* and we have to send everyone to online colleges.

          And, yes, every so often someone comments in the usual places that they should throw all the illegals out of UC for taking up some highly qualified white kid’s place.

          *”The days of building new brick-and-mortar campuses may well be over. The new avenues to the University of California may be more online, more from community colleges. Actually investing a billion dollars and erecting a campus — I don’t know where the money would come from even if you could justify it.” LA Times, February 2, 2013.

    • Gary Ravani on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm09/10/2013 7:35 pm

      • 000

      Actually El, there’s a provision in AB 484 to forbid any kind of comparisons between SBAC and STAR. It would be the typical apples to orangoutangs kind of comparison. The statisticians could tie themselves up in knots trying to do it by some tortuous manipulation of data but it would be worthless. More worthless than the system is now and that’s saying something.

  8. navigio on Sep 10, 2013 at 8:13 am09/10/2013 8:13 am

    • 000

    The thing that concerns me about 484 is that it will also ‘hide’ any results we do get for 2 years. So this is not about no public accountability for a year, but depending on the eventual language, for up to three. Why do we even bother with this stuff if we can’t even allow ourselves to be honest about it?

  9. Ann on Sep 10, 2013 at 7:53 am09/10/2013 7:53 am

    • 000

    In this case….meddle away, Arnie. Torlakson doesn’t like assessment, never has,and is moving forward on behalf of the teachers’ union. This “plan” is an expedient to cease evaluation of California schools ability to advance academic knowledge for students. If a student can’t do well on a “simple rote exam” (their take on the STAR, not mine), there is no way they would do well on the CBAC developed tests that will supposedly go “deeper” and require “critical thinking”. Beware critical thinking without underlying content knowledge!


    • Kami on Sep 10, 2013 at 11:48 am09/10/2013 11:48 am

      • 000

      I agree that students who don’t have basic skills and content in place will struggle even more on the CBAC. However, I am hoping the new test will encourage teachers to spend time developing students’ ability to think and problem solve.

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