A bill that would jump start California's move to new standardized tests - and relax public reporting - is set to go before the state Senate next week.
AB 484 would encourage school districts to offer the new exams, based on new standards called the Common Core. But the tests would be practice only for the next two years.
Unlike the previous tests, which were given on paper and pencil, the new tests are computerized. State officials said the bill would allow districts to be exempted this year if they're not prepared.
Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, who authored the bill - AB 484 - said the new standards are so different, that schools need a transition period.
“What we are talking about with this bill is giving the gift of time," Bonilla said at a press conference Thursday morning. "We are giving the gift of time to teachers and to students. We are saying we want you to focus on classroom instruction.”
The bill has districts choose to test their students in either Math or English during the "practice" period, rather than both, as schools currently do.
The Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who has a powerful voice in Sacramento, has expressed concern over the single-subject limitation.
“It appears now that that tradeoff is imbalanced,” Deasy told the LA School Report. “Not only are there no accountability measures, but we’re not going to allow all students to take it.”
And the bill calls for results of the new tests to be shielded from the public for the first two years.
Parents won’t know how well their local schools are doing, and they won’t even get individual reports on their own child’s scores.
State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said the change will have to be approved by the federal government. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires annual testing and reporting.
“We are in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education around these issues, and we will be making a specific waiver process to the Secretary and await his decision," Kirst said.
In public documents, federal education officials said they’re open to waiving testing requirements to states during the transition to the Common Core. The standards have been approved by 47 states.
California won’t wait for that approval. Officials said they don't have the time. The California legislative session ends next week. Under current state law, schools are required to give the old tests in the Spring, as usual.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced his plan to change the tests in January.
He originally called for suspending all state standardized tests this year, only administering federally-mandated exams that testing 3rd through 8th graders every year - and high schoolers one time - in English and math.
He had also recommended students either not be tested on every subject every year or simply skip tests altogether every other year. And he proposed eliminating the high school exit exam. The new Common Core tests were not to start until next year.
But Bonilla's bill instead called for the new tests to start this year - first as a pilot program at 20 percent of schools and now to any school that wants them.