The pilot test for California’s new science standards is underway at schools across the state, despite a long-brewing dispute with the federal government over whether students should be tested on the old or new standards.
The computer-based exam, called the California Science Test, will be given to all students in 5th and 8th grade, and either 10th, 11th or 12th grade at each high school. The test includes 19 to 22 questions and takes one to two hours to complete. Schools have a window between March 20 and the end of the school year to administer the test.
California is one of 19 states to adopt the new standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, and among the first to administer a pilot test. In 2016, the state asked for a federal waiver to stop giving the older, pencil-and-paper science standardized test, which was based on standards adopted in 1998, in favor of the new test.
The U.S. Department of Education denied the request, saying that the state had not demonstrated that new test would advance student achievement or improve the existing reporting methods. The federal government also argued that California would be violating the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires every district is to publish standardized test results. The pilot test results will not be released.
California appealed, and in a decision issued just before President Barack Obama left office, the federal government again said no. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that California would give the new test anyway.
“Right now it’s unresolved,” said Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Education. “We’re working with the Trump Administration to sort it all out. Meanwhile the test is going forward.”
The dispute appears to be on hold, for now.
“Our discussion with California regarding their pilot test on Next Generation Science Standards is ongoing,” U.S. Department of Education Press Secretary Liz Hill said in an email to EdSource.
The pilot test is primarily intended to assess the electronic testing system. A longer field test will be administered next year, with the fully operational test expected in early 2019. Like the pilot test, the field test results will not be reported to the public. An alternate test for students with cognitive disabilities or independent education plans will also be administered.
The Next Generation Science Standards, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2013, differs from the old science standards by emphasizing hands-on science projects, critical thinking skills and lessons that blend different scientific disciplines such as life sciences, engineering, physical science and earth and space science.
Schools in California are rolling out the new standards gradually, with textbooks and other materials slated to be adopted in 2018 and all schools teaching the new standards by 2019. Eight districts and two charter school organizations are part of an early-adoption program overseen by WestEd, an educational consulting firm.