Thursday, October 31, 2013

COST OF CALIFORNIA DEFIANCE IN CANCELLING TESTS? At least $15 million; maybe $3.5 billion+

Feds set price of defiance on standardized tests: at least $15 million

By John Fensterwald, EdSource Today |


The state risks losing millions in federal funding for failing to offer standardized tests to students this year. Credit:

October 30th, 2013   ::  The state now knows how much federal funding it stands to lose by declining to give state standardized tests in math and English language arts next spring to all students: at least $15 million – and potentially tens of millions of dollars more.

An assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education cited that figure and warned that the fine and the impact on school districts could be greater in a letter released Monday to State Board of Education Michael Kirst and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The Legislature, by passing Assembly Bill 484 last month, put the state out of compliance with the federal testing requirements law. AB 484 ends most state standardized tests, including English language arts and math for grades 3 to 8 and 11, which are required annually under the No Child Left Behind law. Instead, the state is requiring that all districts administer a preliminary test in the Common Core State Standards in either math or English language arts – but not both – in those grades. In her letter, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle said that offering one of the two tests wouldn’t meet the law or provide the results that the public relies on.

“By failing to administer a reading/language arts and mathematics assessment to all students in the tested grades, California would be unable to provide this important information to students, principals, teachers, and parents,” she wrote. “In addition, because its new policy violates federal law, California now risks significant enforcement action by the Department” – a loss of $15 million in administrative funding for the state Department of Education plus potentially the $30 million that the state received last year through Title I to administer standardized tests.

California also may be designated a “high-risk grantee,” jeopardizing its ability to get other federal grants and a state waiver from sanctions under NCLB, Delisle stated. California is one of a handful of states yet to get a waiver.

And those are just the state sanctions. Delisle warned that some of the $3.5 billion for disadvantaged students that districts receive under Title I may be in jeopardy, including money for children with disabilities and migrant children, School Improvement Grants for the most struggling schools and professional development funding for teachers. All depend on annual test results that the state wouldn’t be able to provide under AB 484, the letter said.

The latter threat – to withhold money from schools – prompted Kirst and Torlakson to respond Monday: “Federal officials have never before taken money out of classrooms, and we would hope and expect that they would not start now.”

Rationale behind one field test

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Credit: Tom Torlakson's office

<< State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

In authoring AB 484, Torlakson argued – and Kirst and State Board members agreed – that, with school districts pressing ahead to implement the new Common Core standards, it would be counterproductive and distracting to test students under the abandoned state math and English language arts standards. They also said that Common Core field tests would be a valuable trial run on administering tests by computer, allowing districts to better prepare for the official tests a year later, in spring 2015.

At the same time, state education officials said they didn’t want to overload districts and so required that they give students either math or English language arts, not both. Deputy Superintendent Deb Sigman also cited potential cost benefits of one test, although the federal penalties would more than wipe out any savings to the state.

In his short statement responding to the letter, Kirst and Torlakson defended the decision to do the field test and implied talks with federal officials would continue.

“California is moving forward now with modern standards and assessments because we want all children – no matter where they come from or where they live – to graduate ready for college and careers,” the statement said. “To the extent there is disagreement with the federal government, there is a process for addressing it, and we’ll continue to work with officials in Washington.”

AB 484 requires all districts to give the field test, but there is no penalty for those districts without the computers and Internet capacity to offer it. Surveys by the state and county superintendents indicate most districts will do the field test. Those that don’t, however, will not give any math or English arts tests next year – another point of contention with Washington.

In an unusual move, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned the Legislature on the eve of the AB 484 vote that passage would create a conflict with federal law and result in sanctions. But Duncan also is a strong supporter of the Common Core, and the federal government funded the two consortiums of states that are developing the new standardized tests.

Recognizing the importance of the field test to the test developers, in July he announced that he would grant waivers from federal testing requirements under No Child Left Behind for those schools that volunteered to do the field testing. But he anticipated between 10 and 20 percent of schools would offer them, not all schools in a  state the size of California. And he expected schools not giving a field test to continue administering their state tests, with results reported to parents. Because field tests are trial runs that include questions that will be discarded, they can’t produce valid scores for either parents or schools.

It’s not clear whether Duncan objected to California’s decision for districts to administer only one of the Common Core tests to students or to its decision to give all students a field test that would not yield scores that could be used for federal accountability purposes.

The state’s largest education organizations representing teachers, administrators and school boards fully backed AB 484 and the end of state tests.

“This law frees students from an outdated testing system and gives them an opportunity to do a practice run this school year on the new computer-based tests. It makes no sense to test students on material they haven’t been taught or to force them to take two tests,” Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law.

However, some state and national advocacy groups representing low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities opposed it, and on Monday, 11 groups signed a lengthy letter praising the threatened sanctions of the Obama administration as “an important first step in protecting the rights of students and parents.”

“We call on California state leaders to fund the full costs of providing both the English and Math Smarter Balanced assessments for school districts, ensure the necessary supports and accommodations for students and fund the analysis required to offer the results of these tests to parents, teachers, and education leaders,” said the letter, whose signers included Education Trust-West, Ed Voice, Parent Revolution and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

In a statement, the eight school districts in the California Office to Reform Education or CORE that do have a one-year No Child Left Behind waiver also called for the state to pay for both Common Core field tests for all students and avoid a confrontation with the federal Department of Education.

“The CORE districts support Secretary Duncan’s efforts and believe that rather than a partial field test of the new assessments, all of our students should have the benefit of taking both the math and the English language arts assessments,” said Michael Hanson, president of CORE and superintendent of Fresno Unified.

U.S. threatens to take $3.52 billion from California schools in testing dispute

By Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News

10/30/2013 06:02:14 PM PDT | Updated:   10/31/13  ::  Reinforcing its threat to punish California for dumping its old standardized state tests next spring, the U.S. Department of Education said that decision could cost the state at least $3.5 billion.

The state could lose $15 million it receives to administer a federal program for poor children, known as Title I. More critically, a letter sent Tuesday by Deborah S. Delisle, an assistant secretary of education, hinted California risks significantly more money from other federal initiatives, for the lowest-performing schools, English-language learners, disabled students, rural schools, migrant children and teacher training. Those totaled about $3.5 billion last school year.

The dispute between state and federal education officials boils down to whether students need to take standardized tests in English and math every year, and whether the public should be able to see those results. Federal officials say the law requires that, but California believes that's unreasonable.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said he was surprised that federal authorities would send a threatening letter. He and members of the California Department of Education have been meeting with U.S. officials about reconciling California's new testing regimen with federal law.

He characterized the talks as constructive. "I don't believe we are stuck at all."

The federal threat comes as California begins major changes to the way it teaches K-12 students. It has adopted a new standard for learning called Common Core, which is intended to offer practical and relevant lessons, teaching students to think critically and solve problems.

State officials said it makes no sense to use the old STAR tests, which were administered in grades 2 to 11 every spring, in the midst of a switch to a new curriculum. Instead, next spring schools will test-drive the Smarter Balanced test, which succeeds STAR.

The California Legislature decided that schools will only test students either in math or English, and the state will not release the results to schools nor to the public -- because the trial run is as much a calibration of the test as it is a measurement of student achievement.

That limited testing, the elimination of the STAR tests and refusal to release results has infuriated federal education officials.

Advocates for low-income students and school reform cheered the letter. "California is the only state in the entire nation that is choosing to violate the ESEA," the federal law mandating testing, said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the advocacy group Education Trust-West, based in Oakland. "As a result, the federal government is saying, 'Enough is enough; we have to react.' "

Taking a sample STAR test at San Jose High Academy, 2008. (Richard Koci Hernandez)

Other states, he said, have figured out how to meet federal standards even with changes to their curriculum. He said California is being cheap, saving money by dumping its state test, and paying for students to take just one of the two segments of the new, shared national tests.

Last month, on the eve of the Legislature's vote phasing in the new tests, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued an unusual warning that the bill would violate federal law. Testing helps keep schools accountable, he said, and publishing results provides parents and the public needed information about school performance.

But AB484, the bill promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown, passed easily.

If the federal government does withhold funds, the impact could be significant, said Stephen Fiss, superintendent of the Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose. In special education, for instance, federal dollars account for about 30 percent of the budget. "I don't know if we could survive the impact."

Still, he supports the Legislature's decision for a reprieve from high-stakes testing, giving schools needed time to develop curriculum and modify teaching.

Kirst said he will continue to work with Washington officials.

He noted that the federal government has never taken away money from schools. And, he wrote in a statement issued jointly with state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, "We would hope and expect that they would not start now."

Funds the Feds threaten to withhold from state

A partial list of federally funded programs in California schools that could be vulnerable to the U.S. withholding funds:

  • $65.6 million -- School Improvement Grants program, for the lowest-performing schools
  • $155.8 million -- Title III of Elementary and Secondary Education Act for Language Acquisition, for English learners
  • $1.2 billion -- Part B of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, for special education
  • $1.3 million -- Title VI, Part B2 for Rural and Low-Income Schools
  • $133.5 million -- Title I, Part C of ESEA for migrant education$265.7 million -- Title II, Part A of ESEA, for professional development and other support for educators

Feds threaten Brown on testing plan

By Tom ChorneauSI&A Cabinet Report –

Wednesday, October 30, 2013  ::  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan moved earlier this week to squelch California’s plan to suspend almost all statewide student testing next year by formally threatening to withhold administrative Title I money – some portion of about $15 million.

The action, which had been anticipated for weeks, comes even as the Obama administration has granted 45 other states conditional relief from most of the requirements and sanctions imposed under the No Child Left Behind Act.

But in a letter to state officials this week, first reported by EdSource Wednesday, federal officials said California’s plans to suspend testing violate assessment requirements for accountability purposes.

“By failing to administer a reading/language arts and mathematics assessment to all students in the tested grades, California would be unable to provide this important information to students, principals, teachers, and parents,” said Deborah S. Delisle, assistant secretary over the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, in the letter to state board president Mike Kirst and state schools chief Tom Torlakson.

Delisle identified at risk $15 million in Title I money largely used to pay for support activities at the California Department of Education and alluded to further sanctions if the state did not comply.

The threat, also not unexpected (see Cabinet Report, Sept. 19:, would not likely be carried out for months given that the state has not yet officially violated federal testing mandates.

AB 484, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law only last month, would suspend virtually all testing next year, including those needed for federal accountability purposes, as part of the state’s effort to transition from the existing system of instruction and testing to one based on new national curriculum standards.

Ironically, California stands as one of the nation’s leaders in embracing the Common Core – a high priority for the Obama administration, which is under attack in a number of other states, including many that have received NCLB flexibility waivers from Duncan.

Still, allowing California – which has been denied a statewide NCLB waiver – to circumvent federal assessment requirements poses a significant political threat to the U.S. Department of Education’s plans for integrating new accountability and performance standards in an environment where Congress appears unable to reauthorize the nation's education law.

The warning to withhold federal money is not unprecedented – in fact, disputes between states and federal regulators are common and are even governed by an appeal and resolution process.

Insiders have suggested that Brown is not likely to back down, especially since the state won’t even become officially out of compliance until 2015. Add on the time that the state will have to appeal the fine and California would be theoretically on the cusp of being back in compliance based on the plan set out in AB 484 before the loss of federal funds would become an issue.

A similar dispute between California and the Bush administration over eighth grade algebra testing in 2009 ended up with $50,000 in federal money being withheld.

Federal government letter to California education officials

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