Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Brown not backing away from decision to suspend state standardized tests

By John Fensterwald | EdSource Today |

September 17th, 2013   ::  Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday defended the state’s decision to suspend state standardized tests this year and instead offer students a practice test in the Common Core standards that’s now being developed. And he gave no sign of steering away from a collision with the federal government over this issue.

“I feel that a test based on a different curriculum does not make a lot of sense,” he said during a news conference in Oakland. “We are investing $1 billion to adopt Common Core.”


Gov. Jerry Brown leaves an Oakland press conference about training high school students to build video games on Sept. 16, 2013. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

The source of the conflict is Assembly Bill 484, which the Legislature approved last week and Brown has promised to sign. By requiring that every district capable of administering a computer-based test give students a Common Core field or practice test next spring, the bill will put California out of compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law. NCLB mandates annual testing in state standards in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 in math and English language arts in order to measure schools’ and individual students’ performance. The field test will not produce results for federal accountability. Its purpose is to help the test developers create a valid assessment on the new standards in 2015, when California and other states would formally introduce it.

But Brown, who was at the Oakland School for the Arts, the charter school he founded, indicated the sky wouldn’t fall if schools went a year without test results for accountability purposes. “We’ve had test results for 12 years,” he said.

Turning to the school’s executive director, Donn Harris, Brown asked, “Can you handle a year without test results? I’m not worried.” Harris agreed that the school has mas many ways, beside standardized tests, to evaluate how students are performing.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an advocate of the Common Core standards, has acknowledged the usefulness of the field test and said he would exempt schools, comprising up to 20 percent of a state’s enrollment, from also taking their state tests.

But California will be pressing the issue by seeking a waiver for most districts from state tests in those grades. Those districts without the technology to administer the computer-based field test would give neither the old test under state standards nor the Common Core test – one reason for Duncan’s opposition. The State Board of Education earlier this month authorized Board President Michael Kirst to work with the state Department of Education on the waiver request and handle negotiations with Duncan’s staff.

In an unusual move a day before the Legislature was to vote on AB 484, Duncan issued a clear threat to penalize California if it passed the bill. But he was ambiguous about what the state would have to do to qualify for a statewide waiver, and after the Legislature approved the bill anyway, he turned more conciliatory.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, published Monday, Duncan called fining the state “a last resort.”

“We want to be flexible, we want to be thoughtful,” Duncan told the newspaper. “We don’t want to be stuck. There are lots of different things happening across the country. I don’t want to be too hard and fast on any one of these things because I have not gone through every detail, every permutation.”

Duncan also praised Brown for providing substantial money for teacher training and technology needed to teach and test the Common Core. “I give the governor tremendous credit,” Duncan said. “He’s put real resources behind that.”

Brown in Oakland framed the disagreement over testing as part of the state’s larger effort, through the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula, to move control over education from Washington and Sacramento to local school districts. And he hearkened back to a much earlier era as evidence. “How did we win World War II?” he asked rhetorically. “How did we do before the federal government intruded in education?”

Brown was in Oakland on Monday to support Project A-Game, a $450,000 program funded by The California Endowment and the Entertainment Software Association, in which students in Oakland and Sacramento will learn about careers in the lucrative computer arts industry and create their own video games. The governor praised the effort to help students make the connection between math and science and electronic media. Students at the East Oakland neighborhood center Youth Uprising  piloted the program.

California won’t qualify for testing waiver under new federal guidelines

By John Fensterwald | EDSOURCE TODAY |

California plans to roll out computerized testing in 2015. Image from Flickr

Students would take online Common Core field tests, rather than traditional standardized tests, under a bill before the governor. Image from Flickr

September 18th, 2013  ::  The federal Department of Education specified for the first time Tuesday what states would have to do to receive a waiver from giving state standardized tests next spring in the one-year transition to implementing the Common Core standards.

Within hours, California’s two top education leaders acknowledged in a news release (follows)  what observers had been saying: There’s no way the state will get such an exemption under the terms of a bill now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

“We recognize that legislation awaiting action by the governor would not meet the requirements outlined in today’s guidance. Nevertheless, we continue to believe Assembly Bill 484 represents the right choice for California’s schools,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a joint statement. But they also downplayed the potential conflict and indicated they’d do damage control to minimize unspecified penalties the state may face for failing to follow testing requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“While this may put California technically and temporarily out of compliance with federal testing mandates, we’re confident that we can work with our colleagues in Washington to effectively manage this transition,” they said.

In order to encourage teachers to turn full attention to learning the new Common Core standards this year, the state is proposing under AB 484, which Torlakson authored, not to give the California Standards Tests in English language arts and math in the spring of 2014 to grades 3 to 8 and grade 11. Instead, it would offer every student in those grades a field or practice test in the Common Core in either subject. Schools and parents wouldn’t get results back, because a field test is intended to screen and evaluate questions and procedures, not produce reliable scores for students and schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had indicated that Washington would permit some field testing in the new Common Core standards and would grant a waiver so that students wouldn’t have to take both the Common Core field test and state tests in the same subjects.

But, as a three-page letter from Assistant Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle makes clear, the government wasn’t anticipating granting a waiver to every student in every school. And those students who took the field test in math or English language arts would still have to take the existing state test, for accountability purposes, in the other subject.

AB 484 would put the state in the position of funding only one of the field test subjects per student and not offering a state test in the other subject.

The bill would create two other complications for a waiver:

  • The field tests would be administered on a computer. Those districts without the capacity to handle them would give no test next spring. State officials argue that giving no test is better than giving an old test under state standards the state is abandoning. And Deb Sigman, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said Tuesday that she hasn’t conceded that some districts would not be able to give the field test by computer in the 12-week span allowed. The state doesn’t have the information yet for that determination, she said.
  • Federal law requires annually measuring the progress of English learners and of low-achieving schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants. Sigman said that the state may propose measurements other than standardized tests for English learners and School Improvement Grant schools next year.

State officials plan to submit a waiver request this fall, however doubtful it now appears it will be granted. Duncan has threatened to withhold some federal funding from California, although he said this week it would be “a last resort.”

California Department of Education (

California Department of Education News Release

Release: #13-93
September 17, 2013

Contact: Tina Jung
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Torlakson and State Board of Education President Kirst Issue Statement on Federal "Double Testing” Waiver Guidance

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst issued the following joint statement after federal education officials released guidance today on the "double testing” waiver announced in June:

"We're pleased the federal Department of Education shares our view that ‘double testing' is not in the best interests of students and schools during this transition to tests based on the new Common Core State Standards. We also agree that field tests of these new assessments are ‘tests of the tests,' and that results would not provide parents and schools with a valid and reliable measurement of student progress.

"We recognize that legislation awaiting action by the Governor would not meet the requirements outlined in today's guidance. Nevertheless, we continue to believe Assembly Bill 484 represents the right choice for California's schools.

"While this may put California technically and temporarily out of compliance with federal testing mandates, we're confident that we can work with our colleagues in Washington to effectively manage this transition and arrive at our shared goal: a modern assessment and accountability system that supports teaching and learning in the classroom and prepares every child for a bright future.”

# # # #

Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5206, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

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