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In Reversal, California Expands Statewide Tests to 2 Subjects

LA School Report | November 22, 2013

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Photo: SF Examiner State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson

Photo: SF Examiner
State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson

Under pressure from the federal government, California is expanding a field test of computer-based assessments to test students in both math and English language arts, rather than just one subject area. A law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 484, (see story here) requires testing in only one subject.

The change, announced yesterday by State Education chief Tom Torlakson, came in response to concerns that the US Department of Education would withhold as much as $45 million dollars in funding, as well as additional Title I funds if the state did not comply with long standing federal rules that students in grades three and eleven be tested annually in both subjects.

The news was welcomed by LA Unified, which had planned to test in both subject areas anyway, at a cost of $2 million.  In applauding the decision, Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement it “brings more equity to the assessment transition process” as the state shifts to the Common Core State Standards curriculum. The cost of administering the added test will be paid for by the state.

“We are glad that this decision will relieve us of the obligation to pay for the second test, saving us vital funds,” Deasy said. “We continue to prepare for the transition to Common Core State Standards in instruction and testing, which is why we are working to ensure there are adequate computers or tablets on every campus so students can access the computer adaptive Smarter Balanced assessments.”

Torlakson also said California is applying for a “double testing” waiver from the federal government, which would allow students to avoid taking both the field test and a separate end-of-year state test.

AB 484 ended most of the assessments that had comprised the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program for the past 15 years. It required students to be tested in one subject area but did not preclude the state from requiring tests in both.

“This move to up-to-date new assessments marks a major step forward in California’s work to ensure that every student graduates equipped to succeed in college and careers,” Torlakson said in a press release. “These field tests simply make good sense, and expanding them to include both subjects for most students makes even better sense—in contrast to ‘double testing’ students, which makes little sense at all.”

Field tests serve as “tests of the tests,” allowing experts to gauge the accuracy and reliability of individual test items before finalizing the assessments for full-scale use. As such, no field test scores will be produced or reported. The vast majority of students will be tested in both subjects this spring.

All students in grade three through eight and grade 11, as well as a small sample from grades nine and 10, will participate in the Smarter Balanced field test.

“Expanding the field test for hundreds of thousands of students to take both sets of assessments will mean more hands-on experience for them and their teachers, as well as more opportunity to identify any technological needs,” said Mike Kirst, president of the State Board of Education. “All of that means that California will be starting from a solidly built foundation when these assessments become operational next school year—and that’s good for our students, our schools, and our state.”

Ninety-five percent of the students will take a sampling of test items for both content areas, plus one performance task from one content area. The remaining five percent of students will focus on one subject or the other. The field test will take place between March 18 and June 6, 2014. The new assessment system goes operational in the 2014-15 school year.

The new assessments will be computer-based, allowing for a much broader range of test questions than the multiple-choice exams given under the previous statewide tests. They will emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving, modeling the kind of teaching and learning needed to prepare all students for the demands of college and the workplace.

In LA Unified, students will take the tests either on iPads or school-based computers.

Previous Posts: Brown Signs AB 484, Ending Old Standardized Tests in CaliforniaCoalition Calls on Gov. Brown to Veto Testing Bill, AB 484; Torlakson Rebuts Duncan, Defends State Testing Bill


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