California’s Department of Education announced Thursday that it’s backing down from a plan to give students just one of the new math and English standardized tests this spring.
“These field tests simply make good sense, and expanding them to include both subjects for most students makes even better sense—in contrast to ‘double testing’ students, which makes little sense at all,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a written statement.
This is not the plan Torlakson, state legislators, and Governor Jerry Brown endorsed in Assembly Bill 484 earlier this year. That bill stipulated that California would only give students one field test this spring, to ease students into the new tests and the computer technology on which they'll take them.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned California officials before and after AB 484 was signed into law that California would be out of compliance with federal laws that require testing in both subjects. He threatened to withhold as much as $3.5 billion in classroom funds if the state didn’t change.
“It was clear that we needed to come to an agreement with Mr. Duncan,” said State Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla.
Duncan softened over time, but didn’t withdraw his threat.
The change to California’s testing wasn’t entirely motivated by the Sword of Damocles the federal government hung above California schools, according to Richard Zeiger, of the California Department of Education.
“The motivation for the change is that we’d been hearing from schools, school officials and parents that they wanted their children and teachers wanted to be able to see both halves of the test,” Zeiger said.
California has requested a “blended” English and math test from the testing service that's creating the new tests. Officials want the test to take the same amount of time as for one full test. Essentially, California students will be taking half of each test this spring.
They'll take two full tests the following school year, officials said.
“We are kind of hopeful because it’s closer to what they said that they wanted,” Zeiger said.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Education could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, so it's unclear whether California’s compromise fits federal rules.
Federal law also requires states to report testing results publicly – something California officials have said they won’t do this school year because they said the tests are practice.