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Torlakson calls for giving school districts more money for Common Core


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State Superintendent Tom Torlakson

Gov. Jerry Brown included $1.25 billion in this year’s state budget for implementing the new Common Core standards. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is calling on the governor and the Legislature to match if not raise that amount next year – and throw in additional dollars to help districts cut student absenteeism and suspension rates.

With the Legislative Analyst’s Office projecting a surge in Proposition 98 revenue for K-12 schools next year, Torlakson advocates channeling at least $1.5 billion – about $240 per student – for school districts to choose how best to prepare students for both the Common Core English language arts and math standards and the new Next Generation Science Standards that the State Board of Education adopted in September.

“There is some anxiety as you talk to teachers because tough budgets have not allowed professional development over the past three years. And there’s a technology gap (to administer computer-based Common Core tests). But administrators and school boards are welcoming a chance for more training. The state should step up,” Torlakson said in an end-of-the-year interview.

The state has given districts the choice of spending their share of the $1.25 billion to purchase computers and technology, train teachers and administrators, or purchase instructional materials. A survey by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association indicated districts are spreading the money around. However, it’s been difficult to gauge how well prepared districts are to teach the new standards as well as to administer the field test in the new standards in spring 2014 and to implement the first actual Common Core test a year later. Less than half of districts responded to an extensive survey by the state last spring on technology readiness. So Torlakson called on all districts to take the survey, called the Technology Readiness Tool.

“We’re emphasizing to superintendents and school boards that they need to identify what their needs are,” he said. “What is the gap (in technology to administer the new tests)?”

Without the results, it will be harder to make a case to the Legislature for more money, he said.

Torlakson said his other priority for one-time state money would be to train teachers in alternative forms of discipline to suspension. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has sponsored bills the past two legislative sessions to restrict suspensions based on “willful defiance” of school authorities, a catch-all phrase in state law. Two years ago, Brown vetoed the bill; this year, Dickinson pulled back his bill, pending further work, and expects to reintroduce it in 2014. Torlakson said that regardless of the status of Dickinson’s bill, there is a need to train teachers in strategies to defuse situations that would lead to school suspensions.

School districts will be required to pay more attention to reducing suspension and absentee rates when creating their Local Control and Accountability Plans, an annual requirement under the state’s school financing system, the Local Control Funding Formula. Setting goals to improve school climate and student engagement are among the priorities that districts must address. Torlakson said that through regional symposiums, the state Department of Education can help districts identify early patterns of chronic absenteeism and, through partnerships with social service agencies, intervene with parents through home visits. “It’s important to go knock on doors,” he said.

Torlakson discussed other issues as well.

Conflict with federal officials on testing: Torlakson said that he expects a response from the federal Department of Education early next month on the state’s application for a one-year waiver from federal standardized testing requirements. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has agreed to allow 20 percent of students in a state to take a field test in the Common Core standards in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 in lieu of  a state standardized test. However, a new state law, AB 484, which Torlakson sponsored, requires all districts to administer an abbreviated version of the computer-based field test to all students, and discontinues nearly all California state standardized tests.

Torlkason and the State Board of Education argue it makes no sense to continue to give standardized tests on state standards when students need to transition to Common Core standards. There’s no assurance that Duncan will agree to the state’s plan, and federal officials have threatened to withhold tens of millions of federal Title I dollars. Discussions with federal officials have continued, Torlakson said, without hinting at a possible outcome.

However, heads of seven California nonprofit organizations have stepped up pressure on Duncan to set conditions for a possible state waiver. In a Dec. 23 letter, they asked Duncan to require that districts make public the results of the Common Core field or practice test, including by student subgroups.

“It is clear that parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and voters in California believe it is important to test students and provide that data to help schools improve,” they said. Signers include Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the advocacy organization EdVoice; Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West; and Rick Miller, executive director of the California Office to Reform Education, a nonprofit serving 10 school districts.

State officials have argued that the field test will not produce valid and reportable results for districts and student subgroups. Its primary purpose, they said, will be to assist the test developer, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, perfect its assessment for 2015.

Accelerated development of new tests: AB 484 requires the Department of Education to present a master plan for introducing new standardized tests in subjects not covered by Common Core standards by March 2016. However, Torlakson said that he plans to meet with State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and Executive Director Karen Stapf Walters to discuss a faster timeline for tests in some subjects. High school math tests, including Algebra I, and tests in the new science standards would be priorities for quicker test development.

Action on teacher dismissals and evaluations: Faced with potential ballot measures rewriting state laws on teacher dismissals and teacher evaluations, Torlakson said the Legislature should act on those issues. For two straight years, the Legislature deadlocked on a bill that would make it simpler and less expensive to fire teachers accused of sexually abusing students. A proposed initiative sponsored by EdVoice would put the issue to voters in November 2014.

Earlier this month, a consultant affiliated with Sacramento-based StudentsFirst submitted a proposed initiative to the attorney general for approval that would rewrite the state’s teacher evaluation law and eliminate teacher dismissals based on seniority. Torlakson said he has not reviewed the two initiatives, which have yet to qualify for the ballot, but encouraged the Legislature to act this session on its own. The initiative would impose a teacher evaluation structure that Torlakson said should be collectively bargained.

In September 2012, a task force that Torlakson appointed released a report, Greatness by Design, that recommended a more comprehensive approach to teacher evaluations than required by the current law, the Stull Act. Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford and current co-chair of the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, co-chaired Torlakson’s task force.

Filed under: College Ready, Common Core, Elections, Evaluations, Federal Education Policy, Local Control Funding Formula, Pay and Tenure, Reforms, State Education Policy, Teaching, Testing and Accountability

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3 Responses to “Torlakson calls for giving school districts more money for Common Core”

  1. Chris Miraglia said

    on December 31, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I find it disturbing that CORE is already pushing to have the practice tests scores published as we as educators are trying to overcome the emotional and mental damage that NCLB has created for both students and teachers alike. What possible good could come of this? Based on what is already known about the SBAC and other tests given by other states is that the scores are abysmally low. What is to be expected? If one were to look at the practice tests questions that are to be be given here in California, there is not a lot of hope for good results and then to be judged by a misinformed public and policy makers about the tests we will be taking a step back to past for the worst. I have examined the sample test questions that will be given and there are very few questions a grade level student could accurately answer. So once again teachers could be judged by a single test as the insanity of testing environment of NCLB continues. Being an educator in one of the CORE districts, I hope that common sense will prevail.

  2. Ze'ev Wurman said

    on December 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Three years back EdSource estimated the costs of Common Core implementation at $1.6B. That $1.6B carefully avoided mentioning technology costs.

    We have already spent $1.25B and with the suggested additional $1.5B it will be “only” $1.15B over that estimate. Not a big deal as long as one deals with other people’s money :-)

    On a more serious note, I am torn between saying give Torlakson the money because otherwise he will “explain away” the pending Common Core fiasco with lack of funding, and don’t give him a penny more because he will blame the pending Common Core fiasco on lack of money anyway, so why not save the money at least.

    But if anyone thinks that the $2.75B will suffice, I have a couple of bridges to sell him. Just the annual *ongoing* cost of technology for computerized testing runs over $200M for California school districts. Add multi-year *serious* professional development (rather than the mostly Mickey Mouse one teachers today are getting), and we are easily talking additional one billion every year. Just as a point of reference, it took Calif. over a decade to have sufficient number of qualified algebra teachers in our middle schools. How long will it take now to teach them all the somewhat-serious geometry that Common Core insisted on pushing there, rather than a serious algebra class?

    Happy New Year!

  3. Doug McRae said

    on December 31, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I’d like to comment on the testing waiver now pending with the feds, particularly the suggestion in the Dec 23 advocacy letter linked by the post. The letter suggests that a fixed form set of common items be administered to all students grades 3-8 & 11 for both E/LA and Math as part of the Smarter Balanced field test for spring 2014.

    From a test development perspective, the suggestion in the letter is feasible. Smarter Balanced has a sufficient number of “qualified” test questions from their spring 2013 pilot test to construct valid and reliable short form common core tests for the required grade levels and content areas; in fact, Smarter Balanced is planning to administer such a fixed form test to a small sample of kids (600 per grade level and content area) spring 2014 to initially guage the comparability of paper-pencil and computer-administered versions of SB tests. This fixed-form test could be folded into the 2014 field test design for CA at the last minute, resulting in all kids taking the same version of a SB common core test as well as matrix-sampled new test items to collect data to qualify new items for a final SB item bank for future SB tests. It is now, regretably, too late to do this for a p/p version of a short form SB common core test, but it is not too late to adjust the field test design for CA for a computer-administered version.

    One downside for such a plan would be an increase in the test adminitration time for each kid, from the 3.5 hours promised for the current field test design submitted late November for consideration by the feds, to probably something in the 6-8 hour per kid range. This downside would affect primarily the techonology issue discussed below.

    To complete the test development tasks needed to generate meaningful scores from a revised 2014 field test, next summer CA would have to support a “standards-setting” study on the short fixed-form raw test data to establish “cut scores” needed to translate raw data into performance levels [basic, proficient, advanced or whatever labels are chosen]. With cut scores, the spring 2014 field test data could be aggregated by school, district, and state and also by subgroup for the uses suggested in the advocacy letter. The major caveat would be these test development tasks would not be completed until after schools begin their 2014-15 school year next fall. Return of individual student results would be problematic until individual student validity and reliability data can be generated to support distribution of individual student scores.

    While this suggestion in the advocacy letter is feasible from a test development perspective, with caveats, the jury is still out on whether CA has the technology capacity in the schools to pull off such a spring 2014 field test design. The most credible tech capacity data thus far is the Smarter Balanced Technology Readiness Tool (TRT) data from July 2013 that indicated only 45 percent of CA districts/schools have the capacity to admininister SB tests. TRT data is collected on a continuous basis, with “data extraction” conducted every 6 months or so — a TRT extraction was set for Dec 13 several weeks ago. So, SB now has new TRT data for CA but so far it has not been released (to my knowledge). If tech ready data for CA has taken a significant jump between July and Dec 2013, that would be encouraging for a revised SB/CA spring 2014 field test design to include a short fixed-form common core test for all kids grades 3-8 & 11, to allow for the meaningful data desired by schools and districts as detailed in the Dec 23 advocacy letter. If tech capacity is still hovering around the 50 percent level as of the Dec 2013 TRT data extraction date, that would be a discouraging factor for going forward with the 2014 field test design referenced in the advocacy letter.

    PS — By the way, I would support the SSPI’s request for additional $$$ for implementing the common core, say a buck and a quarter [well, maybe a billion and a quarter] for the next budget CA cycle. In my view, it will be a 4-year process for acquiring the technology necessary for full computerized testing as well as acquiring instructional materials and conducting professional development for new content standards for the four major content areas [E/LA, Math, Science, and History/Social Science] with at least some targeted money needed for each of the next three fiscal years.

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