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OpinionEditorial

'Trial run' for Common Core

EducationScienceSusan Bonilla

A proposed bill to overhaul California's standardized school testing system includes some provisions that are bold and forward-looking. After all, there is no point in continuing with the old tests of student progress in English and math this year when teachers are supposed to be preparing for the switch to the new Common Core curriculum in the 2014-15 school year.

But in other ways, AB 484 is a step backward.

The complicated bill, pushed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), originally called for a one-year hiatus on all standards testing except what's required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The idea was to give schools a year to adjust to the new Common Core curriculum in English and math. The new curriculum is supposed to foster critical thinking over rote memorization. It will require different teaching methods and use more sophisticated tests via computer.

A new version of the bill, unveiled last week, is smarter in certain ways. The existing state standards tests in English and math — the subjects covered by the new curriculum — would be replaced with tests based on the Common Core curriculum. This would be a trial run only for districts that want them and that have the computer equipment to administer the digital version.

Because neither schools nor teachers would be held accountable for the trial run results — and because they wouldn't have to waste time teaching to a now-irrelevant test — they would be able to concentrate on mastering the skills needed to teach the new curriculum. The state would need federal permission to go forward with this plan. The U.S. Education Department should grant that much, though it should require the state to provide pencil tests for districts that lack computer equipment so that all students could take them.

But the bill would also suspend all the existing tests for history, which are not affected by Common Core, as well as science tests that aren't specifically required under federal law. That's a bad idea given that schools tend to give short shrift to subjects that aren't tested. Also falling by the wayside are tests in English and math for grades two, nine and 10. Those also aren't federally required, but they have been part of the testing system in California since 1998. These tests wouldn't necessarily disappear for just this year; there is no commitment to when or whether they would return.

Missing out on one year of data is a worthwhile trade-off for better instruction in the future. But dropping accountability standards for an unknown number of years is a matter that calls for a more thoughtful debate than can be had in the one remaining week of the legislative session.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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