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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:
A Mojave Desert school district has unanimously approved the new operator of the nation's first school to be converted to a charter by parent demand.
The approval marks the end of a nearly two-year battle by the Desert Trails Parents Union to use California's so-called "parent trigger" law. The landmark legislation allows parents to force radical change at a failing school through a petition. It has inspired similar laws in about six other states.
Teachers and administrators largely opposed the parents group, saying reforms were under way at Desert Trails.
The parents group had to obtain two court orders compelling the district to accept the petition.
California State schools superintendent Tom Torlakson wants to revamp statewide standardized testing; instead of memorization driven, multiple-choice bubble exams, the proposed tests would assess critical thinking, problem solving, and essay writing skills.
Torlakson said the new test would be implemented in the 2014-15 school year at the same time as the state adopts national Common Core curriculum and phases out the current STAR testing program.
“We’ve been asking our kids to master new skills and so the assessments must change, too,” said Torlakson.
It will take more than a year to implement, so Torlakson is recommending suspending most tests not required by the federal government starting next year. This would put a moratorium on STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course-exams at the state level.
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President Obama has said the U.S. needs to replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s “more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”
As the federal No Child Left Behind law's eleventh birthday arrives Tuesday, California is one of the few states that still must meet its requirements.
The Obama administration has exempted 33 states from the law's provisions since 2011 -- in exchange for agreeing to reforms. California has refused to implement a key measure: using student test scores to assess teachers and principals.
As a result, its request for a waiver was denied last week. Now California schools that fail to meet the law's provisions could face serious sanctions. State officials expect about 80 percent of schools to fail in 2014.
“If they don't meet those goals over a five year period then the school may be closed, everybody will be fired, the school may be turned into a charter school, the school can be handed over to private managers,” said researcher Diane Ravitch of New York University.
A student walks past a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school bus in Los Angeles, California on February 13, 2009.
LA Unified students head back to school on Monday morning and district officials want parents to know they should expect to see a lot more police on school campuses.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said the increased police presence should help set parents at ease after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Among the dead were 20 children and six adults. The gunman also died in the attack.
Even before the shooting, 200 school police officers were already stationed throughout the district, including one at every high school.
To boost patrols, Deasy is drawing from LAPD, the sheriff’s department, and at least a dozen other law enforcement agencies in the county. Officials said the increased presence is not a response to any threats, rather to help reassure parents, educators and children.