California schools superintendent Tom Torlakson unveiled a plan yesterday to completely overhaul the tests K-12 students take every spring as the state moves toward adopting a new curriculum, called the Common Core, by 2015. The tests are meant to gauge mastery of subject matter in each grade. Lawmakers had requested he come up with a new model.
If the legislature approves his plan, two years from now, students will put down the Scantron forms and No. 2 pencils and pick up a mouse instead. He proposes that students use computers for the new test, which would require students to write, analyze, solve problems and provide explanations on how they arrived at their answers.
That’s a significant move away from the current exams students are required to take. STAR — short for Standardized Testing and Reporting — relies heavily on memorizing information.
“The ability to engage in critical thinking and solve complex problems cannot be reliably assessed with the kinds of multiple choice tests that are the centerpiece of our current system,” Torlakson said.
The new test — which he estimates may cost as much as $1 billion to implement — will take time. So Torlakson recommended a dozen interim changes. Some of the bigger ones:
- Beginning next school year, suspend all state standardized tests and only administer federally mandated exams.
- Develop a plan for testing subjects beyond English, math and science. Areas for consideration include: visual and performing arts, world languages, technology, science and history-social sciences.
- Eliminate the high school exit exam. Instead, use 11th grade results on English and Math assessments as indicators of college readiness.
Torlakson is also recommending that kids either not be tested on every subject every year or simply skip tests altogether every other year.
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