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.”
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.