California Risks Losing $3.5 Billion by Dumping STAR Tests

The U.S. Department of Education has threatened to withhold $3.5 billion from California if the state moves ahead with its plan to replace its old Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) regime administered by public schools in California with new assessments.

In a threatening letter, Deborah S. Delisle, an assistant secretary of education, said that California is at risk of losing what it receives every year for funding poor children’s education, helping the lowest-performing schools, English-language learners, disabled students, rural schools, migrant children and teacher training, writes Sharon Noguchi of San Jose Mercury News.

California could lose $15 million it receives to administer a federal program for poor children, known as Title I, the letter said.

Federal education officials said California is required by law to take standardized tests in English and math every year, and that the public should be able to see those results.

California wants to replace the old STAR tests with a new tests aligned with Common Core, which is intended to offer practical and relevant lessons, teaching students to think critically and solve problems. California officials believe that it makes no sense to use the old STAR tests, which were administered in grades 2 to 11 every spring, in the midst of a switch to new curricula.

Next spring, schools will test-drive the Smarter Balanced test, which succeeds STAR. The California Legislature decided that schools will only test students either in math or English, and the state will not release the results to schools nor to the public.

Federal education officials are not happy with the state’s decision to eliminate the STAR tests and not release results to the public.

Advocates for low-income students and school reform cheered the letter. “California is the only state in the entire nation that is choosing to violate the ESEA,” the federal law mandating testing, said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the advocacy group Education Trust-West, based in Oakland. “As a result, the federal government is saying, ‘Enough is enough; we have to react.’ “

Ramanathan said other states have figured out how to meet federal standards even with changes to their curriculum. California is being cheap, saving money by dumping its state test, and paying for students to take just one of the two segments of the new, shared national tests, he said.

Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that replaces STAR tests with Common Core Standards-aligned tests. Assembly Bill 484, which was authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would end the pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice the standardized STAR tests and replace them with assessments called Measurement of Academic Progress and Performance.

The STAR tests have been administered by state’s public school since 1999.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said he was surprised that federal authorities would send a threatening letter.

Kirst said he and members of the California Department of Education have been meeting with U.S. officials about reconciling California’s new testing regimen with federal law. He characterized the talks as constructive. “I don’t believe we are stuck at all.”