A showdown on Common Core testing in California

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Legislature has passed a bill, AB 484, that would retire the state's existing standards tests this school year and replace them with a limited version of the very different tests linked to the new curriculum, which emphasizes critical thinking over rote memorization. Though the Common Core standards are supposed to be in place in the fall of 2014, with tests in the spring of 2015, California and most of the other 44 states that have adopted the curriculum are trying to get an early start. That's wise. It will take a couple of years for schools to master this new way of teaching and testing. What California hopes to do — as laid out in AB 484 — is to offer a practice run of the new standards tests this school year, but only in districts that have the technology in place to administer the computer-based exams, and without counting the results as an official measure of school progress.

But this limited testing regimen isn't in keeping with the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act. California would ostensibly need a federal waiver.

Enter U.S. Marshal — er, Education Secretary — Arne Duncan, with his education reform guns blazing. He takes a dim view of AB 484 because not all students would take a test this year, as the law requires, and because the state would not release the results of this practice run, either publicly or to the federal government. That would keep the Department of Education from using the scores to determine whether schools have met their targets under No Child Left Behind. California Supt. Tom Torlakson says the state will not back down, even though Duncan is threatening to withhold some or all of the approximately $1.5 billion it receives each year in federal Title I funds.

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