California Changes Testing Plan To Include Both English and Math

In California, officials have altered a statewide testing plan to include English and math, and all students will take new, Common Core-aligned standardized tests in English and math this spring. The previous plan had been to test students in either English or math, but not both.

The initial testing period will be a trial run for students and staff to get used to the new format. The tests will be given on computer and their difficulty increases or decreases based on student responses. The hope is to provide a more precise measure of student knowledge, writes Howard Blume of Los Angeles Times.

The new tests are based on the Common Core learning standards adopted by 45 states. The learning goals underlying the tests also are different, as they purportedly favor critical thinking skills over rote memorization.

“The motivator was that we heard from a lot of districts and school officials and teachers that they wanted to see both halves of the test,” the state Chief Deputy Supt. Richard Zeiger said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was among the districts that wanted all students to have a testing experience in English and math. The revised approach was hailed by LAUSD, which had been prepared to spend $2 million to expand the testing on its own.

“We applaud and appreciate that the state has listened to LAUSD and other school districts,” said LAUSD schools Supt. John Deasy said. “We are glad that this decision will relieve us of the obligation to pay for the second test, saving us vital funds,” Deasy said.

Under an agreement between the state and the testing consortium, Zeiger said LAUSD would no longer have the option to offer the full test in each subject, even if it was willing to pay for it.

The decision to test students in English and math brings California more closely in line with federal testing rules. The Obama administration could withhold federal education dollars if California is violating its requirements.

“We hope the federal government will see the merits of our actions,” Zeiger said.  “If so, that’s great. If not, it will be what it’s going to be.”

Earlier this month, 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 caustic 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.