California gives extra year to adjust to Common Core tests

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2015 4:00 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is giving schools at least one year to breathe easy before they are held accountable for results on new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.

At a meeting in Sacramento, the state's Board of Education suspended its school accountability system for the 2014-2015 school year. The move is intended to give teachers and students time to adjust to standardized tests aligned with the Common Core standards.

The suspended Academic Performance Index uses student results on statewide tests to rank schools and to identify those that need improvement.

School board President Michael Kirst said the state wants to make sure it is measuring student growth, not just baseline performance, on the new Smarter Balanced tests.

The Common Core benchmarks adopted by a majority of states around the nation have come under fire in recent years, largely from conservatives who decry them as a federal infringement on school policy. The standards were approved for implementation by individual states, though the U.S. Department of Education encouraged their adoption through initiatives like Race to the Top.

In California, by contrast, the Common Core standards have been largely embraced by district leaders, parents and teacher unions.

Kirst said that even if the new test results aren't used on the state index, they will still be reported at the school, district and state level. "They'll be held accountable to the public," he said.

Several districts, including Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest, requested that this year's assessments not be used for accountability purposes, arguing that students have not had enough time to practice on testing devices and that the new tests could not be reliably compared to the old pencil-and-paper standardized tests that California children took to measure growth.

"We need that next year to look at this issue of growth," said Edgar Zarzueta, LAUSD chief of external affairs.

The Smarter Balanced tests are required to be taken on a computer or tablet. At LAUSD, there were numerous problems when a practice test was administered, including the website crashing and slow connectivity.

Those issues appear to be resolved: The tests are now being administered in 94 Los Angeles schools, and officials said Tuesday there were no major issues.

As states move further into implementing the Common Core standards, increased focus has been placed on testing. Under the President George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, students in grades 3-8 are required to be tested annually in math and reading. The new tests replace old state assessments.

A small handful of states have chosen to drop or revise the standards and related tests, but they remain in place in most states. While technical problems have been reported in numerous districts, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers reported Wednesday that more than 2 million tests have been completed online in the 11 states and the District of Columbia that make up the consortium working on Common Core-aligned test development.

Suspending the California's evaluation system means scores in the first year won't be used to take any corrective actions. Numerous parent, teacher and education organizations commented in favor of the delay at Wednesday's meeting. The decision to suspend is part of the state's plans to overhaul its accountability system in favor of one that uses multiple measures, rather than just test results, to determine how well schools perform.

"We feel that accountability is very important to the public. But it's sensible to delay because the information is not all going to be clear and solid and current, and we need the transition time," said Celia Jaffe, education commissioner of the California State PTA.

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