Friday, November 22, 2013

4 STORIES + A PRESS RELEASE ON “TESTING THE TEST”: The headline says students will be tested …that isn’t quite true

Altered state plan will test students in English and math

By Howard Blume -

Student testing

Students concentrate during an English class at Jordan High School. California officials have altered a statewide testing plan to include both English and math. (Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times / March 11, 2010)

November 22, 2013, 5:31 a.m.  ::  State officials Thursday announced that nearly all California students will take new standardized tests in English and math this spring.

The previous plan had been to test students in either English or math but not both. The revised approach was hailed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which had lobbied for the state to pay for students taking tests in both subjects.

"The motivator was that we heard from a lot of districts and school officials and teachers that they wanted to see both halves of the test," said state Chief Deputy Supt. Richard Zeiger.

This round of testing was never meant to generate test scores or data for schools. Rather it is a "test of the test," as officials put it, to make sure questions and the exam as a whole are valid and reliable. In the following year, the test will begin to yield results for students.

For schools, the initial testing period will be a trial run for students and staff to get used to the new format. The tests are intended to be given on computer, and the difficulty of test items increases or decreases based on student responses. The hope is to provide a more precise measure of student knowledge.

The learning goals underlying the tests also are different: They favor critical thinking skills over rote memorization, for example. The tests are based on the so-called Common Core learning standards adopted by 45 states.

L.A. Unified was among the districts that wanted all students to have a testing experience in both English and math.

"We applaud and appreciate that the state has listened to L.A. Unified and other school districts," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

The district had been prepared to spend $2 million to expand the testing on its own.

"We are glad that this decision will relieve us of the obligation to pay for the second test, saving us vital funds," Deasy said.

The state's new plan maintains the same $51 million testing budget as before by trimming each subject test in about half. This reduces the amount of money needed for grading the tests, which is a major portion of the expense.

The reduction in the size of the test would likely affect how many computers L.A. Unified would need this year. That topic had been an issue of contention earlier in the week. District officials said Wednesday that they had to have more than 67,000 iPads to send to schools just for testing purposes. That's in addition to 85 schools that would receive iPads for every student as part of a $1-billion technology program.

A committee overseeing school bond spending challenged those numbers. And they may now have additional ammunition for doing so.

The district estimate was based on students taking the full test in both math and English. State officials said Thursday that school districts now could offer only a half-test in English and a half-test in math.

The time set aside for testing -- and perhaps the number of computers needed -- would also presumably be reduced by about half.

Zeiger said that under an agreement between the state and the testing consortium, L.A. Unified would no longer have the option to offer the full test in each subject, even if it was willing to pay for it.

The decision to test students in English and math brings California more closely in line with federal testing rules. That's important because the Obama administration could withhold federal education dollars if California is violating its requirements.

"We hope the federal government will see the merits of our actions,” Zeiger said.  "If so, that's great. If not, it will be what it’s going to be."

CA offers Duncan potential solution to testing issue

by Tom Chorneau | SI&A Cabinet Report ::

November 22, 2013  ::  (Calif.) Field testing this spring of assessments based on the Common Core in math and English language arts have been expanded to include 95 percent of students in grades three through eight, the California Department of Education announced Thursday.

The move came as the state also finalized a federal waiver application – first proposed in July – aimed at relieving schools from administering both the new Common Core pilot tests as well as separate, standardized end-of-year assessments.

Although there has been some speculation that the two actions are intended to satisfy U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has threatened to withhold federal funds over the state’s plan to suspend almost all K-12 standardized testing this year, it is far from clear what the outcome will be.

A spokesman for the CDE said Thursday that the department has received no indication from federal officials one way or the other.

In a plot twist only a bureaucrat could appreciate, even if the waiver is approved California would still not have test scores that could be used to fulfill federal accountability requirements as defined under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In a Nov. 21 letter to Deborah Delisle, who heads the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, state schools chief Tom Torlakson and board president Mike Kirst notes that because all California districts would be participating in the field testing, there will be no new Annual Yearly Progress determinations based on the 2013–14 school year. Instead, they said, prior AYP determinations will be used for an additional year.

Duncan announced in June that states could apply for a waiver to eliminate some federally-required testing while also implementing new assessments based on the Common Core standards – a  'double-testing' potential that the secretary said wasn't needed.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown began shaping AB 484 – the state’s vehicle for transitioning California to the Common Core. A key amendment to the bill took place in July when the decision was made to suspend almost all standardized testing in 2013-14 and press ahead with the new assessments based on the Common Core.

Originally, the field testing of the Common Core system was limited to either math or English but not both. With cost as the biggest concern, state officials initially rejected the idea of expanding the pilot testing as a potential solution of its problem with Duncan.

That changed in recent weeks. By manipulating the length of the exam – literally the number of questions students would be asked and scorers would have to evaluate – officials said they can bring the costs down.

No second thoughts on tight timeline

sidebar to EdSource story>>>>

Setting a precedent among states, Massachusetts will give its schools the option of putting off the new Common Core assessments, planned for spring 2015, for a year. Asked if California might follow suit, State Board of Education President Michael Kirst replied in an email: no.

The Massachusetts Board of Education voted 6-3 this week to approve a two-year transition plan to the Common Core tests. The extra year would give teachers more time to prepare students in the new standards and schools extra time to become familiar with computer-based tests. Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester told Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz that many of the state’s students weren’t yet ready to be held accountable for a test measuring college readiness. “Our system isn’t ready to deliver a college-ready education to all our students off the bat,” he said. “I don’t want to get there by having students punished by not meeting that bar.”

Chester also said that waiting an extra year would enable the state to better compare the new Common Core test with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS. Massachusetts is a member of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), one of two consortia of states designing Common Core assessments; California is a guiding member of the other, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Massachusetts has led the nation in scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress for years and ranks among high-performing nations in international tests. Noting its “street cred,” Gewertz wondered whether other states might also consider moving slowly and delaying Common Core tests as well. “Massachusetts is sending some powerful signals that others will be watching,” she wrote.

Kirst, for one, is having no second thoughts: “Mass. is part of a different assessment consortium than California. PARCC has a different design than Smarter Balanced, and is experiencing different implementation challenges than Smarter Balanced and California,” he wrote. “We believe that we are on track for spring 2015 with SBAC after assurances by (Smarter Balanced Executive Director) Joe Willhoft at our November State Board of Education meeting. The statewide field test in spring 2014 will help greatly in California’s preparation. Mass. seems to be  more confident in their own state assessment called MCAS than California is with the CST (California Standards Tests).”

State expands field tests of Common Core-aligned assessments

By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News |

Posted: 11/21/13, 5:44 PM PST  ::  The field test of California’s new computer-based assessments will be expanded so that nearly every student will take exams next spring in both math and English, rather than being limited to one or the other, officials said Thursday.

High school juniors, students in grades three through eight, plus a small sampling of ninth- and 10th-graders will participate in field tests of the Smarter Balanced assessments. According to the state, 95 percent of the kids will be given questions in both content areas, plus one performance task — a more complex problem — in either English or math.

“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. “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.”

Officials said they expanded the plan in response to requests from local school districts. Los Angeles Unified, for instance, had planned to pay some $2.3 million so that students in the state’s largest district could become familiar with both parts of the assessments.

“I’m pleased the state is going to do this,” Deasy said in a phone interview. “It allows L.A. to not have to pay for the supplement so that money that could have come from the Common Core budget can now bo back to professional development for teachers. This is a very big deal.”

Deasy also said the district is working to make sure that there will be enough computers on all 1,000-plus campuses so students can take the online tests.

During a meeting Wednesday, the Bond Oversight Committee recommended that the school board reject a proposal to buy 67,000 iPads for the testing program, saying it wasn’t convinced that so many devices were needed. The iPads would be in addition to the devices that already are or will be deployed to 45 schools as part of Los Angeles Unified’s technology program.

The school board will consider the plan at its Dec. 10 meeting.

“I’ll be finalizing my recommendation to the board over Thanksgiving break,” Deasy said. “I am considering adjustments after listening to the concerns raised by the Bond Oversight Committee.”

Smarter Balanced is devising the assessments that will be used to test student mastery of the Common Core, the new math and English standards taking effect next fall. The field tests being administered next spring will be used to gauge the validity and accuracy of individual questions before the assessments are finalized for the 2014-15 school year.

The field test will take place between March 18 and June 6, but results of how well students performed will not be produced or reported.

Officials also said Thursday they had applied for a waiver from a federal requirement that it give standardized tests at the end of the school year. California has suspended this year’s standardized tests during the transition to the new Common Core curriculum

Torlakson seeks testing waiver to avoid conflict with feds

By John Fensterwald | EdSource Today

2Students will take computerized field tests aligned to Common Core standards in math and English next year, state officials announced. Credit: EdSource file photo

Students will take computerized field tests aligned to Common Core standards in math and English next year, state officials announced. Credit: EdSource file photo

November 21st, 2013 | Faced with potentially tens of millions of dollars in fines, the state Department of Education has headed off a confrontation with the federal government over standardized testing.**

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Thursday that he would require school districts to offer the Common Core practice tests, created by the Smarter Balanced states’ consortium, in both math and English language arts next spring. A new law changing the state’s standardized testing program, Assembly Bill 484, which Torlakson and Gov. Jerry Brown supported and that sparked a dispute with the federal government, required only that students be given one of the assessments, although it didn’t explicitly prevent Torlakson from offering both tests.

The state’s one-test policy was at odds with long-standing federal law, that all students in for grades 3 to 8 and grade 11 be tested annually in both subjects. And it prompted an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to warn state officials last month that the feds might withhold $45 million to the state Department of Education, plus potentially larger amounts in federal Title I dollars for low-income and special education students.

Torlakson’s carefully worded news release makes no mention of the conflict with the federal government or a concern over districts’ capacity to administer computer tests in both subjects next spring. Deputy State Superintendent Deb Sigman had repeatedly stated over the past month that that districts would get as much benefit from offering one field test as from offering both. And she said that the state was worried about overloading districts as they move from state tests, using paper and pencil, to computer-administered Common Core assessments.

“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. “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.”

There’s no guarantee that the state’s revised policy will satisfy the feds. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he would consider allowing states to substitute the Common Core field test in spring 2014 for the annual tests in state standards for at least some students. But states would have to apply for a waiver from double testing students to do this. The deadline to apply is Friday – Nov. 22 – and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and Torlakson submitted the waiver request  and letter to U.S. Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle on Thursday.

In an interview, Chief Deputy State Superintendent Richard Zeiger said that the state will offer a shorter form of both the math and English language arts field tests that together take 3½ hours – no longer than the full field test in either subject. As a result, it should impose no further burdens on school districts’ capacity or time. And it will be done within the existing budget, he said.

“We managed to strike the appropriate balance here,” he said.

Zeiger said that the state doesn’t know if the shorter tests will satisfy the federal government’s requirements, but he hopes that they will. The state did not negotiate its proposal with federal officials, he said.

A few states have indicated that they would seek a statewide waiver for all students. But most plan to give one of the Common Core field tests to 10 to 20 percent of their students and to continue giving some form of state tests to the rest.

Torlakson and the State Board of Education took the position that the transition to the Common Core standards required a clean break from tests under the old state standards, so that teachers and districts could concentrate on preparing for the new assessments and Common Core. Consistent with that, AB 484 terminated nearly all California Standards Tests, effective Jan. 1. Official Common Core tests will debut in the spring of 2015.

A field test is essentially a test of a test – a method to screen questions and determine their level of difficulty, a necessary step before rolling out the official assessment. Smarter Balanced will not release the results, because a field test cannot produce valid scores for measuring individual student or school achievement.

Organizations representing teachers, administrators and school boards supported AB 484 and Torlakson’s one practice test proposal. Torlakson and state officials were miffed when the eight districts that formed the California Office to Reform Education called on Duncan to demand that the state give districts both the math and English language arts tests.

In a statement on behalf of CORE on Thursday, Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said, “We applaud Superintendent Torlakson and President Kirst’s announcement as we have consistently advocated throughout this process for ensuing all youth have access to the field test. More than anything else, schools and districts are hungry for information as we undertake this unprecedented implementation.”


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