Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource (2014)
The California Department of Education wants to begin phasing in online tests for new science standards this spring, in lieu of taking paper-and-pencil tests based on old standards.

California education officials have appealed the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to reject the state’s request to begin phasing in tests this spring based on new science standards, rather than administer current tests based on standards in place since 1998.

In a letter sent Tuesday to federal education leaders, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst wrote that they are seeking an administrative hearing in Washington, D.C., to make their case before Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr.

Existing federal education law requires that the U.S. Department of Education hold a hearing by Dec. 29, but Torlakson and Kirst requested that the hearing be postponed until after the Jan. 2 holiday to allow state education staff time to prepare for the hearing.

“Given the upcoming holiday season, we believe that conducting a hearing prior to this date (Dec. 29) will be burdensome for both parties,” Torlakson and Kirst wrote.

“We hope to honor our respective staffs’ family obligations, and recognize the difficulty and expense of booking last-minute travel during the holiday season,” they wrote. “This suggestion does not represent a waiver of our right to a hearing; instead, it indicates our willingness to waive the statutory time limit within which that hearing should be conducted.”

The U.S. Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The battle between California and federal officials over science testing has unfolded during the past several months.

California’s first salvo began in June, when it sought a federal waiver from administering the paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice California Standards Test that has been used in the state since 1998. That test, based on older science standards, was last given to 5th, 8th- and 10th-graders in the spring of 2016.

“We are moving full speed ahead. We are not changing our plans with the pilot tests,” said Peter Tira, a spokesman with the California Department of Education.

The state wants permission to administer a pilot version of a new online science test this spring, based on the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by California in 2013. A longer field test of the pilot would be administered the following spring.

The U.S. Department of Education, however, rejected California’s waiver request in September, saying the state had not demonstrated that piloting the new tests would advance student achievement or do a better job of reporting on how well students were doing in science. The state rejected that argument and filed yet another appeal.

In a Dec. 13 letter, Whalen responded to the appeal, stating that California must continue to administer the old tests. She wrote that the pilot tests would not “measure the full depth and breadth of the state’s academic content in science.”

The No Child Left Behind law, which is still in place during the current school year, and its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, require states to administer science tests to 5th- and 8th-graders and once in high school.

Whalen maintained that these laws require local school districts to publish the results of those tests. If they aren’t published – or even administered for that matter – then the state wouldn’t have any way of knowing how to improve student achievement, or provide transparency in reporting results to parents and the public, she wrote.

The federal government has not stated what penalties California might face if it does not move forward with the old California Standards Tests this spring.

“There’s been no discussion of penalties,” said Peter Tira, a spokesman with the California Department of Education.

Tira said Wednesday his department still plans to move forward with administering the new pilot test, regardless of what federal officials say.

“We are moving full speed ahead. We are not changing our plans with the pilot tests,” Tira said.

This isn’t the first time that California and federal officials have clashed over testing issues.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education threatened to withhold California’s federal Title I funding for low-income children when the state planned to phase in testing based on the Common Core standards in English and math without the federal government’s approval. Federal officials eventually granted the state a waiver from existing federal education laws so it could administer a Smarter Balanced field test based on Common Core standards instead of the previous standardized tests.

The Title I funds for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017, total nearly $1.8 billion, but state officials said the U.S. Department of Education has not said anything about penalizing California with funding cuts or penalties.

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  1. Doug McRae 9 months ago9 months ago

    Pat: FYI, the history of ED's action to withhold a state's Title I dollars for lack of compliance with Title I assessment requirements has been that they withhold up to the one percent state department administrative portion of overall Title I dollars [for CA's current $1.8 billion Title I dollars, that would be up to $18 million administrative dollars that primarily fund CDE staff and overhead] and then redistribute the withheld administrative dollars to local … Read More

    Pat: FYI, the history of ED’s action to withhold a state’s Title I dollars for lack of compliance with Title I assessment requirements has been that they withhold up to the one percent state department administrative portion of overall Title I dollars [for CA’s current $1.8 billion Title I dollars, that would be up to $18 million administrative dollars that primarily fund CDE staff and overhead] and then redistribute the withheld administrative dollars to local districts using the Title I distribution formula for the remaining 99 percent of Title I dollars.

    In early 2009, ED sent a notice of withholding of $1 million of CA’s Title I administrative dollars (with redistribution to CA LEAs) over a dispute involving grade 8 math tests. CA appealed that action in a DC federal administrative law court, and the action was not upheld on procedural grounds. ED took similar action with several other states over failure to comply with federal assessment requirements during the 2000’s, but whether the current CA dispute over federal science testing requirements will follow a similar path is yet to be seen.