Friday, September 05, 2014


by Kimberly Beltran, SI&A Cabinet Report ::

CA goes it alone on special ed testing

September 04, 2014 (Calif.)   ::  California is moving forward with a plan to develop and administer its own assessment for cognitively disabled students after learning barely a month ago that it would not be allowed to test drive a new national model being launched this spring.

The California State Board of Education took no formal action on the alternate assessment issue Wednesday but it did sign off on a three-year, $33 million testing contract with the group taking over administration of its statewide standardized testing program. These computerized assessments – developed by the state consortium Smarter Balanced for alignment with new education standards – were practice-tested earlier this year and go live next spring.

Transfer of the testing contract had been in the works for over a year and was mostly a foregone conclusion, but news that California was being excluded from the launch of a new alternate assessment came as somewhat of a surprise.

Upon learning July 30 that the National Center and State Collaborative would not allow California’s 39,000 cognitively disabled students to field test its new alternate assessment this spring, state Department of Education staff began exploring other alternatives.

Options, they said, include looking at alternate assessments already being used in other states, as well as continuing participation in the NCSC’s pilot test of its assessment, which wraps up in October. The state could then choose to use an existing assessment, or piece one together using a combination of items that meet the needs of the California students.

Federal law requires that all students with disabilities – including those identified as severely cognitively impaired – be held to grade-level achievement standards as measured by an alternate form of state standardized testing.

Up to now, the state has used the California Alternate Performance Assessment to measure academic achievement of this special group of students. But implementation of the Common Core education standards required the development of new tests designed to assess whether students are reaching those academic goals.

All California students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 will be scored for the first time this spring on their knowledge of the new standards using the Smarter Balanced assessments that were field tested last spring.

However, governance and administration of the new assessment system is shifting this year from the 23-member Smarter Balanced state consortium to an education research group at the University of California Los Angeles.

Wednesday’s state board decision makes California the ninth Smarter Balanced state to sign on with UCLA’s Center for Research on Evaluations, Standards & Student Testing (CRESST). Nine more are expected to sign agreements this fall, while five are not, Joe Willhoft, executive director of Smarter Balanced, told state board members.

The California contract calls for $9.55 million a year for three years for student test costs, plus $4.5 million annually to CRESST for expenses, analysis and support services related to the testing – to be known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).

CAASPP includes summative, interim and formative assessments, as well as a digital library – described as a “Facebook for teachers” where they can access resources, participate in message boards and discuss questions and issues associated with the new testing process.

Paper and pencil versions of the tests will be made available for three years for those school sites where internet capabilities prevent computer administration.

According to Willhoft, however, the paper/pencil version “most likely” will not paint as accurate a picture of a student’s progress as the online version since there is no way to make them adaptable to student responses.

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