California education officials have decided that students will take only one statewide standardized test in science this spring, a pilot test based on new standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards

The decision, made in recent weeks, pits state education officials against the U.S. Department of Education, which told California officials in a Sept. 30 letter that they must continue to administer the older science based on standards adopted in 1998, and publish the scores on those tests.

California has been administering the multiple choice, paper-and-pencil California Standards Tests in science to 5th, 8th and 10th graders until as recently as last year, as required by the No Child Left Behind law.

But the State Board of Education adopted the new science standards in 2013, and educators had planned to administer a pilot version of a new online test aligned with those standards this spring. It had requested a federal waiver from having to give the old test as well, but the U.S. Department of Education denied its request. 

Jessica Barr, an administrator in the California Department of Education’s Assessment Development and Administration Division, told teachers at the California Science Education Conference in Palm Springs on Saturday that California is forging its own path forward and plans to replace the old test with the pilot test this spring.

“We need to move on,” Barr said, an announcement that met with applause from 250 teachers in the room. “We need to transition, and we need to allow teachers themselves to transition to the new standards.”

“There’s no showdown” with the federal government, she emphasized in in an interview with EdSource. She did not elaborate.

The state plans to administer the pilot science test to students in the 5th and 8th grades and one high school grade this school year, then administer a more complete field test the following year. Most students will take the full test in 2018-19; students with disabilities will take a specially designed test in 2019-20. 

“It had been very disconcerting to hear from the state that we’d still have to do the old test,” said John Robertson, an instructor services specialist with Riverside Unified School District. “There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty around the process, but now I’m feeling more confident with this latest news.”

Peter Tira, a spokesman with the California Department of Education, confirmed Barr’s account, saying that the state is moving forward without the current test.

“We are moving full speed ahead on pilot testing,” he said.

Federal officials are concerned that California will not publish student scores on the pilot or field tests based on the new standards. State officials have said they cannot report those student scores or school data to parents, educators or the public because the scores would not be statistically valid.

“The state has not demonstrated that the requested waiver would advance student achievement or maintain or improve transparency in reporting to parents and the public on student achievement and school performance, including the achievement of subgroups of students,” Ann Whalen, senior advisor to U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., wrote in the letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Michael Kirst, the president of the State Board of Education.

The letter from Whalen offered state officials alternatives that it said would satisfy its concerns. Those could include:

  • Embedding new science test questions linked to Next Generation Science Standards within the current test, which would enable the state to adequately pilot the new assessments;
  • Scaling back the new science pilot tests linked to Next Generation Science Standards with a smaller sample of students — and not use all students in 5th, 8th and a high school grade, as is currently planned;
  • Combining these options with other research methods outlined by the department.

“Engaging in some or all of these practices would help meet the requirements under the law and would not require a waiver,” Whalen wrote. But all of her suggestions would still involve administering the old test. 

The department has given the state until Dec. 1 to resubmit its waiver request if it meets conditions outlined in the letter. Barr said that California intends to submit another request for a waiver. On Saturday, she told EdSource that the resubmission of the waiver appeal “may or may not include some of the options” outlined in the Whalen letter, but did not offer details.

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said that California can submit an appeal of the department’s decision as outlined in the Sept. 30 letter. However, she said, “the department has not received an appeal and cannot speculate on what steps CDE will take to correct the issues identified in the letter.”

Barr’s announcement came as welcome news to many teachers and county offices of education executives in Palm Springs.

John Robertson, an instructor services specialist for science, health and physical education in the Riverside Unified School District, was elated.

“It had been very disconcerting to hear from the state that we’d still have to do the old test,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty around the process, but now I’m feeling more confident with this latest news.”

SHARE ARTICLE

Comments (7)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Danielle Hinkle 10 months ago10 months ago

    If the CDE is telling teachers at a conference that we are “forging ahead” with new tests and suggesting the old paper/pencil tests will not be given then why hasn’t there been any sort of official notice of this? LEAs have been notified of the pilot but there has been no “official” statement about CST, CMA, and CAPA science assessments.

  2. Scott MacMillan 10 months ago10 months ago

    Do you know who in CDE I could contact about becoming a pilot testing school?
    -Thanks
    (K-8 Science teacher and TOSA)

    Replies

    • Linda Tolladay 10 months ago10 months ago

      The pilot test will be a census pilot — all students in grades 5, 8 and one grade in high school (10, 11, or 12) will be taking the test.

  3. ann 10 months ago10 months ago

    Never mind there is no curriculum or pacing guide for the NG. Schools are just making it up as they go. Transitioning to a valid and reliable new test with new standards is a scientific process in itself. Our science teacher told me that he was told the "new" standards do not even emphasize teaching the scientific method in elementary school! It's a shame there are no bright lights in the CDE, just a … Read More

    Never mind there is no curriculum or pacing guide for the NG. Schools are just making it up as they go. Transitioning to a valid and reliable new test with new standards is a scientific process in itself. Our science teacher told me that he was told the “new” standards do not even emphasize teaching the scientific method in elementary school! It’s a shame there are no bright lights in the CDE, just a bunch of political hacks.

    Replies

    • Linda Tolladay 10 months ago10 months ago

      Yes, thank goodness we are no longer teaching kids about the artificial "scientific method" in elementary school or anywhere else. Instead we are engaging students in the science and engineering practices actually used by scientists and engineers to make sense of phenomena. The NGSS are a breath of fresh air for teachers and for students, helping us help our students make sense of science rather than memorizing content. The new tests will … Read More

      Yes, thank goodness we are no longer teaching kids about the artificial “scientific method” in elementary school or anywhere else. Instead we are engaging students in the science and engineering practices actually used by scientists and engineers to make sense of phenomena. The NGSS are a breath of fresh air for teachers and for students, helping us help our students make sense of science rather than memorizing content.

      The new tests will help us assess students in a similar manner. The old tests were poor indicators of student understanding of science and provided no information about whether students could perform scientific reasoning. Thank goodness we are getting rid of them, so that we can be free to begin to transfer our pedagogy to where it needs to be to meet our new standards. Standards written to address how we know students learn.

  4. Arthur Camins 10 months ago10 months ago

    This action by the US Department of Education makes it crystal clear that they are more concerned with public blame than improving learning. Insisting on administering a test based on abandoned standards undermines advancing science education– a goal embraced by the Obama administration. Read more here about what must be done to advance the ambitious goals of NGSS: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/07/22/37camins.h33.html

  5. Doug McRae 10 months ago10 months ago

    Pat -- Check out my comment on Louis Freedberg's Oct 13 story on this topic, providing context for an in-between approach that addresses both the federal requirements and CA's desire to transition to NGSS tests asap. My comment may fill in the blanks a bit on Barr's "there is no showdown" quote as well as the notion that the resubmitted waiver "may or may not include some of the options" in the federal letter. Y Read More

    Pat — Check out my comment on Louis Freedberg’s Oct 13 story on this topic, providing context for an in-between approach that addresses both the federal requirements and CA’s desire to transition to NGSS tests asap. My comment may fill in the blanks a bit on Barr’s “there is no showdown” quote as well as the notion that the resubmitted waiver “may or may not include some of the options” in the federal letter. Y