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Gov. Jerry Brown

With threats of federal repercussions waylaid by the government shutdown, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a bill that suspends most standardized tests and replaces them with a no-stakes field test aligned to the new Common Core standards.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan previously threatened to withhold some federal funding if the state passed Assembly Bill 484. The bill, backed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, replaces most pencil-and-paper standardized tests scheduled for next spring with the computerized Common Core field test in math and English language arts for grades 3 through 8 and 11. Half of the students will take math, and half will take English.

“This is one of the most important and revolutionary changes to education policy,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, in a written statement. She said the new law will “better prepare students and teachers for better assessments that reflect the real world knowledge needed for young people to succeed in college and careers.”

David Rattray, head of education at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which co-sponsored the bill, said it’s common sense for California to transition to a new testing program for Common Core that values problem solving over rote memorization. “We know that this is what the business community needs in order to have a trained and skilled workforce that will allow us to compete in a global market,” Rattray said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who called for testing suspension in a department report released in January, applauded Brown.

“Faced with the choice of preparing California’s children for the future or continuing to cling to outdated policies of the past, our state’s leaders worked together and made the right choice for our students,” Torlakson said in a news release. “These new assessments represent a challenge for our education system—but a lifetime of opportunity for students. As a teacher, I’m thrilled to see our state and our schools once again leading the way.”

However, Duncan said the new state law violates No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal education law that the secretary himself has said is flawed.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during an interview on the PBS program NewsHour.  Source:  NewsHour.  (click to enlarge).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Because California is one of eight states without a waiver from some provisions of the federal education law, the state is still bound by the law’s testing requirements. In order to implement the changes under AB 484 and avoid double-testing students, the state will have to seek a separate waiver from the federal government. Last month, as EdSource Today reported, the Secretary warned California he would deny the double-testing waiver and could withhold federal funding that California receives for administering state standardized tests. The state received $30.2 million last year for this, according to the state Department of Education.

In a statement released last month, Duncan said while he agrees that double-testing students isn’t in their best interest, he can’t, in good conscience, approve a request “to not measure the achievement of millions of students this year.”

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

A handful of school district superintendents reportedly expressed concern about potentially losing that money, but there’s been no widespread alarm.

David Heckler, a director at the education consulting company School Services of California, said that issue hasn’t come up in his frequent conversations with school districts. More pressing right now is what will happen if the federal shutdown doesn’t end soon.

“I’m sure that members have those concerns,” Heckler said, “I think right now all eyes are focused on the federal shutdown and their education funding that comes from the federal government.”

The federal government sent more than $4.9 billion to California’s unified school districts in 2011-12, the most recent data available, making up about 11 percent of an average unified district’s budget.

It’s not known if Duncan will follow through with the penalties. The government shutdown left the phones unstaffed in the Department of Education’s press office and policy experts were furloughed. A department spokesperson did respond to an email inquiry, writing, “Recapping the Secretary’s position from before, he shares the concerns that California’s business community had with the bill. This goes against the NCLB requirement to test all students in the specified grades along with our flexibility on double testing.”

Gov. Brown, who said a few weeks ago that he had no intention of backing down on AB 484, had no further comments after signing the bill. “We’ve said about all we’re going to say on this issue for now,” a Brown spokesman said in an email.

Hours after the bill became law, the state department of education went live with its spring 2014 Smarter Balanced field test website, reporting that testing will take place between March 18 and June 6, 2014. Details of how the field testing will work are still being figured out, said Deputy State Superintendent Deb Sigman.

The process is complicated because about 680,000 of the students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 participating in the overall field test will be preselected to participate in a scientific sample, which will be combined with results from the other two dozen states in the Smarter Balanced consortium and used to evaluate the quality of the questions. That selection process must reflect all demographic groups and achievement levels.

The purpose of the field test itself is confusing. Whether they’re taking the math or English language arts section, students in the same grade will not have the same exam because the purpose of the field test is to evaluate the quality of the questions, and there are more than 20,000 of them.

“The idea is to collect all of this data to make sure we build a test that’s valid and reliable,” Sigman said. “We’ve got people madly working on this right now. I expect that we’ll have the plan within the next three or four months.”

Critics have said that curtailing California’s current standardized testing program will disrupt the state’s ability to track student progress because the field test is not designed to track that level of achievement.


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  1. Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) 3 years ago3 years ago

    A question I feel like I haven’t been able to find a clear answer to:

    What happens to science testing? My interpretation of the bill text:

    “(2)  (A)  Science grade level assessments in grades 5, 8, and 10
    that measure content standards pursuant to Section 60605, until a
    successor assessment is implemented pursuant to subparagraph
    (B).”

    …is that existing science tests will continue to be used until new NGSS tests come online. Is that correct?

    Replies

    • Kathryn Baron 3 years ago3 years ago

      Hi Paul,

      You’re correct. Under AB 484, the state will continue to administer California Standards Tests in science in grades 5, 8 and 10 “until new tests aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, adopted in September 2013, are implemented.”

      The California Dept. of Education has a new AB 484 website which answers many questions about which tests will be continued for now. Here’s the link: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/ab484qa.asp

  2. Jerry Heverly 3 years ago3 years ago

    Quoting a previous Ed Source report: "Starting in 2016, test results of the California Standards Tests will comprise no more than 60 percent of a high school’s Academic Performance Index, or API." Will the CCSS tests be considered tests of Cal standards? Will those now be the ones that count for API? Will my high school's API be entirely dependent on the CCSS eleventh grade test since they don't call for testing ninth and tenth graders? … Read More

    Quoting a previous Ed Source report: “Starting in 2016, test results of the California Standards Tests will comprise no more than 60 percent of a high school’s Academic Performance Index, or API.”
    Will the CCSS tests be considered tests of Cal standards? Will those now be the ones that count for API? Will my high school’s API be entirely dependent on the CCSS eleventh grade test since they don’t call for testing ninth and tenth graders? Or will the state miraculously produce their own ninth/tenth tests. They better get busy producing items if they expect to be ready for 2016. Good items take quite a while.

    Replies

    • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

      The bill that changed this changed the wording from 'at least 60%' to 'no more than 60%' (thats for secondary schools; for primary and middle its still at least, though upped from 40% to 60%). In other words, the API could choose to rely very little (or even not at all?) on the SBAC 11th grade assessments. In addition, I believe SBAC is providing states tools to do some additional testing in 9th and 10th … Read More

      The bill that changed this changed the wording from ‘at least 60%’ to ‘no more than 60%’ (thats for secondary schools; for primary and middle its still at least, though upped from 40% to 60%). In other words, the API could choose to rely very little (or even not at all?) on the SBAC 11th grade assessments. In addition, I believe SBAC is providing states tools to do some additional testing in 9th and 10th grade if they want to. Given current moves on testing and the desire to reduce dropout rate, I would expect it to be more likely that the API be massaged rather than more tests added at state expense. But your point is still a good one. If we do not become more creative in how API is calculated, it will be a reflection of a subset of students, importantly, who generally perform lowest of any grade currently tested.

      Anyway, current API is not any better. Ask your district for their API calculation worksheets and pay close attention to how much high school API varies by ethnicity and disability status..

  3. Regina Nunley 3 years ago3 years ago

    Once again, OUR US Government treats educational situations like a sales meeting. There is NO way the testing company, nor the teachers or District can adequately prepare our students for Common Core assessments without first obtaining a 'baseline' sample of the currently developed test. Arne Duncan once again shows he knows little of what real teachers do or base their teaching, evaluation and remediation or enrichment on. Our students currently do not … Read More

    Once again, OUR US Government treats educational situations like a sales meeting. There is NO way the testing company, nor the teachers or District can adequately prepare our students for Common Core assessments without first obtaining a ‘baseline’ sample of the currently developed test. Arne Duncan once again shows he knows little of what real teachers do or base their teaching, evaluation and remediation or enrichment on. Our students currently do not have the confidence or solid skills to participate in this massive educational shift, so I applaud Governor Brown for realizing that for California to lead the way in this new educational world, we need time to get it right. I am sure our kids will surprise us and do much better than the naysayers expect, but I just read a few days ago, that New York did a trial run on the new Common Core tests, and the kids did poorly. As any good teacher will tell you, there are no wrong answers or mistakes, only OPPORTUNITIES. California just got one from our wise Governor. I hope our Federal Government takes a few minutes to take their heads out of the clouds and support our vision, or common sense and our students.

  4. Sandra Thorpe 3 years ago3 years ago

    This approach to education should have taken place 25 years ago. My expertise in Learning Styles and everything that we have found to be true over the last 40 years clearly demonstrates that each child learns differently and has varied ways of deciphering and approaching new and difficult information. I am looking forward to actually seeing what our students are capable of doing with their minds other than memorizing data.

    Replies

    • Paul Muench 3 years ago3 years ago

      Have you read any of Dan WIllingham’s books?

  5. navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

    duncan's just going to take away the money he gives us to do testing and since we wont be doing testing, problem solved (knowing the feds, its probably not enough anyway, so it might actually be a savings). The real question now comes when we decide who pays for the trial tests we'll do instead. LAUSD was gung-ho trial tests until they were told they might have to pay for them. My guess is it … Read More

    duncan’s just going to take away the money he gives us to do testing and since we wont be doing testing, problem solved (knowing the feds, its probably not enough anyway, so it might actually be a savings). The real question now comes when we decide who pays for the trial tests we’ll do instead. LAUSD was gung-ho trial tests until they were told they might have to pay for them. My guess is it will come out of that common core ‘categorical’.

  6. Bruce William Smith 3 years ago3 years ago

    Governor Brown is to be applauded for this decision. Secretary Duncan is in the unfortunate position of having to enforce a law that has expired and that our dysfunctional Congress, in particular the Senate, has been unable to rewrite even though that rewrite is six years overdue. It's time that the two houses of Congress get their houses in order, get the government working again, step back from the default brink, and proceed with the … Read More

    Governor Brown is to be applauded for this decision. Secretary Duncan is in the unfortunate position of having to enforce a law that has expired and that our dysfunctional Congress, in particular the Senate, has been unable to rewrite even though that rewrite is six years overdue. It’s time that the two houses of Congress get their houses in order, get the government working again, step back from the default brink, and proceed with the rewrite of No Child Left Behind, which is coming to mean All of our Children Left Behind their peers in other countries because of the inadequacies and irresponsibility of the federal government. If Secretary Duncan can take money away from California’s children “in good conscience” over the defence of that illegitimate, expired law and against the Common Core that he has supported, he needs a new conscience.

    Replies

    • Kyle Bracken 3 years ago3 years ago

      I agree with your comment completely. I wish more people were aware of this issue and thought like you on this. I recently emailed Governor Brown about the amount of truencies in California this year, it was one million. I watched kids doing this actually for three years now, teens and pre teens. I don't know if this old system of testing and teaching to test was a reflection of that. … Read More

      I agree with your comment completely. I wish more people were aware of this issue and thought like you on this. I recently emailed Governor Brown about the amount of truencies in California this year, it was one million. I watched kids doing this actually for three years now, teens and pre teens. I don’t know if this old system of testing and teaching to test was a reflection of that. Kids not caring, teachers teaching to test, schools and police not enforcing truency, and parents not caring that much. I got really sick of seeing that many kids on the streets during the day, most had a really bad additude but had time for bus tickets, movies, cell phones and the shopping mall. It’s not right to withold the funds. What the kids really need is to be given the oppurtunity for progress, computerized testing for critical problem solving in career and college. I am happy that Brown signed it, but this iffy part about whether or not we are going to pay or not is total b.s.

  7. Brian 3 years ago3 years ago

    Who cares what the FED says, they have money to do all sorts of shadowy things. They (most) don't care about our kids. Stop pressuring the kids to succeed to certain standards, geez they are just kids. Parents need to turn off the tv and junk food, and get some excercise. Planting a garden or going for a walk is nice too. Get unplugged. How about teach our kids about the Constitution and our … Read More

    Who cares what the FED says, they have money to do all sorts of shadowy things. They (most) don’t care about our kids. Stop pressuring the kids to succeed to certain standards, geez they are just kids. Parents need to turn off the tv and junk food, and get some excercise. Planting a garden or going for a walk is nice too. Get unplugged. How about teach our kids about the Constitution and our Founding Fathers. Teach how to sustain our own communities. How to vote. How to be humans again.

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