Standardized testing of 2nd graders getting challenged again

A long-standing dispute over standardized testing of California's second graders has simmered back to the surface, as lawmakers consider legislation that would remove the assessment from the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, beginning July 2012.

In a struggle that largely pits classroom teachers against subject matter experts, lawmakers will once again be asked to consider the appropriate time for beginning standardized testing in public schools and whether assessments of young elementary students are likely to be reliable.

Legislation aimed at curtailing the practices dates back to 2003 with the latest proposal, SB 740 from state Sen. Loni Hancock, currently pending in the state Senate.

Hancock, who authored almost identical legislation in 2009, said Thursday in an interview that she believes the preponderance of the evidence supports her position for getting rid of the test.

Using a standardized, fill-in-the-bubble testing to provide us with useful student data seems very questionable," she explained, noting that the National Association for the Education of Young Children has said such testing should be delayed at least until the third grade.

"There's also a growing concern among parents about the stress on their children as well as a concern among teachers that they have to spend more time teaching second graders how to fill out the test," she said. "We should phase this out."

Opponents of the bill include EdVoice, an influential non-profit group which includes on its board of directors billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, Silicon Valley investment banker John Doerr and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

They point to research that shows students need to have reading proficiency by the end of the third grade because beginning in the fourth grade - students need to be able to read to learn.

"If you are not reading at grade level at the end of the third grade, you are four times more likely to be a high school dropout - and as a dropout, you are eight times more likely to spend time in state prison," said Bill Lucia, president and CEO of EdVoice.

"Without the end of second grade testing, you don't have the early warning sign that's an objective, uniform measure for parents and educators until the end of 3rd grade - which, by then, we believe is simply too late," he said.

Hancock's 2009 legislation failed to get out of the education committee and while her current bill moved forward this week, some of the same criticisms were raised at a hearing this week.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said he remains concerned about waiting until the fourth grade for standardized testing even though there may be problems with testing in the second grade. "I'm worried about letting loose of an imperfect tool in the absence of some assurance or a clear path to the substitution of a better tool," he said during Wednesday's hearing.

Hancock said that the existing second grade testing isn't providing the kind of useful evaluation data that many believe it is - she said ongoing diagnostic testing, which is also ongoing in the lower elementary grades, is a better use of time and money.

Eliminating the second grade test would save the state about $2 million.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is supporting the bill although his formal letter has not yet been released, according to his government affairs office. Torlakson also has designs on what to do with the savings, suggesting that if the test is eliminated, the money should be spent to help the state in its implementation of the new common core standards in math and English language arts.

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