Thursday, September 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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State seeks to shelve standardized tests

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From page A2 | September 05, 2013 |

BERKELEY (AP) — California education officials proposed Wednesday to immediately do away with the standardized reading, math and social science tests used to measure student learning and school performance since the late 1990s.

Instead of giving the multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper STAR tests in those subjects this spring, the state would introduce new language and math tests that are administered on computers and have been developed with other states, California Deputy Superintendent Deb Sigman told the California Board of Education.

The state previously had planned only to sample the new tests, an outgrowth of the national Common Core curriculum standards that have been adopted by 45 states, with about 20 percent of California’s 3.3 million public school students. The accelerated timeline is aimed at quickly moving teachers and students toward the types of lessons and materials measured by the more rigorous tests, which officials say emphasize analytical skills over rote memorization.

“It sends a message that we think is very important to the field, that we’re serious about this, that we want you to have the time and the space to be able to make this work,” Sigman said.

The proposal requires approval from the California Legislature and the U.S. Department of Education.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, who earlier introduced legislation authorizing the more limited spring trial of the new test, said the idea of phasing out the old tests a year early came from Gov. Jerry Brown. State teachers’ and superintendents’ unions took part in crafting the amendments that would permit every district to participate while freeing them from the demands of preparing students for the soon-to-be outmoded STAR tests, she said.

“It’s very hard for a teacher to say, ‘They want me to do this Common Core, but at the end of the year I’ll still have to get my students ready for the STAR tests,’” Bonilla said. “This is an opportunity for teachers to say, ‘Oh, now for the rest of the year I know what I’m doing. I’m dong Common Core.’ There is no mixed message.”

California has been giving the STAR tests to all students in grades 2-11 since 1999. Under the plan outlined Wednesday, only the science portion of the test would be given to fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders next spring before being dropped altogether a year later.

In place of the old tests, students would take either the English language arts or math part of the new Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress tests this spring and the entire test in the spring of 2015, Sigman said. No individual student scores, school performance reports or statewide results would be generated from this spring’s debut, she said.

“It’s a test of the test,” she said. “This is really about getting used to what this looks like.”

As part of the transition to the Common Core standards, Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature earmarked $1.25 billion in additional K-12 funding this year to help school districts train teachers, acquire materials and upgrade their computer systems.

Sigman said the money the state will save by not giving the STAR tests would be used to subsidize the roll-out of the new tests.

Several speakers at Wednesday’s meeting expressed concern at the speed with which education officials want to switch to new tests. Some said they thought that abandoning the STAR tests before the Common Core assessments are fully implemented would deprive the public of a tool for measuring student achievement and school performance.

Others worried that school districts, schools and teachers were being left without adequate warning or preparation.

“This is a significant change in what they entered the school year thinking they would do,” Debra Brown of the nonprofit advocacy group Children First said.

California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel predicted that few teachers, students or parents would mourn the passing of the old tests, which often were criticized for taking up too much class time and stifling teacher creativity.

While school districts still would have the option of giving the STAR tests at their own expense next spring, “I don’t see very many people jumping at that chance,” Vogel said.

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By Lisa Leff

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