California Abandons Pencils and Outdated Standards in School Testing
California’s STAR tests, the state’s standardized tests for public school students, are being scrapped after 15 years.
Assembly Bill 484, which replaces the pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice STAR tests with new language and math tests taken on computers and slated to be fully implemented in the spring of 2015, received Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on October 2
The new assessments, called Measurement of Academic Progress and Performance (MAPP), were designed with other states to follow a set of national curriculum standards known as Common Core. These standards call for more in-depth teaching of fewer subjects and emphasize real-world applications of material in an effort to prepare students for college and careers.
Common Core Standards
Since 2010, 45 out of 50 states have adopted the Common Core Standards, which essentially streamline expectations for students and educators across the country.
As you can imagine, not everyone thinks that is such a great idea, but State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson congratulated Governor Jerry Brown for signing AB 484, saying that the legislation will sweep away outdated tests in favor of modern, computer-based assessments that will measure student readiness for the challenges of college and the workplace.
“Faced with the choice of preparing California’s children for the future or continuing to cling to outdated policies of the past, our state’s leaders worked together and made the right choice for our students,” Torlakson said.
Hooray! No more bubbling in on scantron sheets with number two pencils! Goodbye and good riddance.
As a teacher who has watched students do everything from creating heart shapes on their bubble sheets to throwing up all over their tests to falling fast asleep, I welcome the knowledge that California’s 4.7 million public school kids will no longer be subjected to these tests.
But will the move to digital testing really make a difference? Or will these once-a-year tests still be the high stakes tests that determine everything about a child’s future education, instead of being used as one benchmark among many to assess that student? Will they be good, useful tests?
Those questions remain to be answered, but California Governor Jerry Brown has officially ushered in a new test, despite a threat by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, to withhold federal funds.
The U.S. Department of Education has raised objections to the state’s plan to only pay for the cost to administer either math or English portions of the test in the spring, while the test is in a pilot phase. California schools would not be required to give the other portion.
This directly conflicts with federal law that requires students to be tested in both subjects in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
How Are the New Tests Different?
The new tests will assess students on critical thinking and communication skills through computerized tests that will adjust to each student’s skill level. Thus, a student’s prior responses affect the difficulty of subsequent questions, allowing a far more precise measurement of student skills and knowledge than the former tests.
The tests are only beginning to roll out, and the law paves the way for California to participate in field testing to iron out content and technical glitches.
How Will the New Tests Work?
As noted above, students will take either the English-language arts or math part of the new MAPP tests next spring and the entire test a year later.
“There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what’s taught in the classroom,” Jim Evans, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said in an email.
The new law also keeps this year’s results private, so parents won’t know how their children performed, and the public won’t know how well schools performed. Scores won’t count toward annual school accountability measures.
At the local level, educators have a lot of work ahead of them to carry out the transition, although the bill does allow districts to skip the test entirely if they don’t have enough computers or internet access.
In my California school district, we’ve been having inservice days to get ready for Common Core for the past two years. In general, teachers are excited about the changes, but wary. For one thing, under STAR, the curriculum and the tests were often poorly aligned, making for some very unfair testing. So until we see what these new tests really look like, there will be skepticism.
There are also many educators who disagree strongly with the idea of Common Core: not so much the idea of better, more meaningful tests, but the notion that all U.S. students should be assessed using exactly the same tests.
What do you think?
Meanwhile, can the U.S. education system please stop relying so heavily on tests?
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