Jerry Brown pushes school testing delay despite federal threats

09/11/2013 12:00 AM

10/22/2014 1:51 PM

State officials are pushing forward with a plan to suspend mandatory school testing for a year despite U.S. Department of Education threats to withhold federal funds.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said California’s request for a one-year reprieve from using STAR tests in math and English for the current school year is unacceptable and may force his department to “take action.”

“No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan said in a statement Monday night.

Assembly Bill 484 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was amended last week to allow all schools to opt in to computer-based assessments aligned to new curriculum standards called Common Core, while ending the 14-year-old STAR tests. The bill, which cleared the Senate on Tuesday evening, would also suspend the annual release of data gathered from either test.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday in a statement, “We support the legislation.”

“There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what’s taught in the classroom,” Evans added.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who is sponsoring Bonilla’s bill, took his support of the bill directly to lawmakers in the Capitol on Tuesday. Torlakson, a former state legislator, said it is a better investment to redirect the $25 million used to give the outdated STAR tests to instead allow more students to try new computer-based assessments.

“I’m disappointed someone in Washington would want to interfere in the legislative process in California,” Torlakson told The Sacramento Bee.

“We are all for accountability and measuring student achievement,” he said. “This is a transition year.”

Students are given STAR tests each spring in English language arts, mathematics, science and history at certain grade levels. Parents receive the results of those tests, while state and federal accountability models aggregate the data for school and district results.

Those scores are used to meet benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind law. Last year, California was denied a waiver from No Child Left Behind after failing to commit to a teacher evaluation process linked to student test scores. Forty-one states have been granted waivers, along with eight California school districts, including Sacramento City Unified.

Bonilla’s bill complicates how California schools – not including those in the eight districts awarded waivers – will remain compliant with the federal education act and whether pots of money, such as Title 1, are in jeopardy.

“That’s something we can’t risk,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, who is vice chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee. “The bill is a long way from earning my support. As of now, it’s wrought with problems.”

Bonilla said Tuesday that there are no plans to change course, despite Duncan’s threat to withhold funds.

“We’ll be going ahead with the bill,” said Bonilla, a former high school teacher. “We believe it’s the best policy for California.”

Torlakson said he looks forward to making the case to the Obama administration “when the time comes” and that it would be a grave error to withhold needed funds from California’s students.

The State Board of Education adopted Common Core standards in 2010, and schools are in various stages of implementing the nationally used curriculum. Teachers have expressed concern that the transition to new curriculum will be hampered by high-stakes tests aligned to previous standards.

AB 484 now heads back to the Assembly, where it will need to be approved this week in order to be sent to Brown.

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