State Assembly defies feds, sends school testing overhaul to governor
The California Assembly on Wednesday easily approved an overhaul of the state’s student testing system in which schools and parents would not receive test scores for at least a year.
The vote of 51 to 22 was largely along party lines, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor. The state Senate had passed the bill Tuesday. The next stop for Assembly Bill 484 is the office of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has said he supports the legislation.
The bill would immediately end state funding for pencil-and-paper standardized exams used since 1999. In their place would be new, computerized tests based for the first time on Common Core learning goals adopted by 45 states. These learning standards are supposed to place a greater emphasis on critical thinking, as opposed to memorizing facts.
There would be no scores because the new system is in a trial period, said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord). This year’s efforts “are designed to see how the test will work and how students will work with it,” she said. In addition, “we want students to be able to have a hands-on experience with the tests as much as possible.”
The bill would permit a further postponement of scores, if needed, for 2015.
In a statement this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan objected strongly to the lack of test scores. He said that parents need to know how students and schools are doing and that federal rules require that. Test scores, therefore, are necessary, he said.
Duncan’s reasoning was cited by Republican lawmakers in the floor debate.
Having results “tells parents like myself” which schools are working and where students are doing well and where they need help, said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, a Modesto Republican. She echoed calls for using the old testing system until the new one is ready to deliver results.
The old test “is far from perfect but it’s what we have today,” Olsen said.
Irvine Republican Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner worried that Duncan would make good on his threat to withhold federal funds if the legislation went forward. Federal dollars make up about 10% of school district budgets.
And Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) said the state just isn’t ready for the changeover, which requires retraining teachers and the widespread use of computers.
But supporters cited the need to prepare as an argument in favor of the bill. The burden of giving the old tests while moving to a new curriculum would be counterproductive, said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Fullerton Democrat.
“Why test on the old system when moving to the new system,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Torrance Democrat.
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