State wants to just skip a year of tests - bad idea

September 11, 2013 

Parents deserve to know how their children are doing in English, math and other subjects. The public deserves to know how all California schools are doing in educating children, including the most disadvantaged.

To that end, all states test students at least once a year in reading and math in grades three through eight and grade 11, and the results are public.

But now the Legislature has passed and Gov. Jerry Brown has said he will sign a bill labeled “Pupil assessments: Temporary suspension.”

The excuse for the suspension is that California, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia, is in transition to the new Common Core.

Assembly Bill 484 would deliberately lead to a year or more with no information on student progress – ending the old STAR tests while only “field testing” the new Common Core tests, with no reporting of scores. Not insignificantly, the failure to test students and report scores also would violate federal law. The state could lose millions of dollars.

Originally, the state planned to do a scientific field test for 10 percent of students in math and 10 percent of students in reading in 2013-14. The plan was to roll out the “real” test for all students in 2014-15. In the meantime, the old STAR tests – which remain a valid and reliable instrument for testing reading and math – would continue in the transition year. That was a reasonable approach. Last week, however, the bill was gutted and amended to its current form.

In the amended version, districts technically capable of offering the online tests would have half of their students take the reading test and half take the math test; others, without the bandwidth or computer hardware, would do no testing.

This would be like telling all of the kids riding in an old but reliable bus to switch to newly designed models before they have been tested or results have been reviewed – or to ride no bus – instead of testing a new, safer model under controlled conditions. Everyone should know that the field test will not be the promised “adaptive” testing – which tailors difficulty of questions by student ability and provides results in weeks, not months. And nothing in the amended Assembly Bill 484 would prevent California from making “field testing,” with no reporting of scores, go well beyond 2013-14.

Better to stick to the original plan of field testing 10 percent of students in reading and 10 percent in math – and giving the old reliable STAR tests to everybody else until the new testing system has been properly vetted.

At a time when the governor and Legislature have established a new “local control funding formula,” we need to know if schools are getting results. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday and the Assembly rushed through a vote on Wednesday. As Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, wrote in urging legislators to reject the bill, “Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach.”

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