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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:
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An empty classroom.
Sure, little Betty in California can write well, but can she write as well as all the little Bettys in Vermont? That’s what a new standardized test aims to measure.
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. They establish uniform education standards for English and math. To this day, states must develop their own benchmarks for learning, so what a fifth grader in La Puente knows can vary greatly from what a fifth grader in Nashville might.
California adopted the plan two years ago. Now, State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson says the state is ready to launch the first of its three phases.
That means teaching teachers about the Common Core. The new standards are supposed to develop the skills students will need in a global economy that favors college graduates.
Although teacher opinions on the new standards span the spectrum, many worry that it’s just the standardized flavor of the month. In California, the state budget crisis has severely restricted the money available for staff training. On top of that, no textbooks teach instructors the new curriculum.
Schools will begin testing on the new standards during the 2014 academic year. Until then, California will test its students on standards the State Board of Education set in the late 1990s.