CA offers Duncan potential solution to testing issue

CA offers Duncan potential solution to testing issue

(Calif.) Field testing this spring of assessments based on the Common Core in math and English language arts have been expanded to include 95 percent of students in grades three through eight, the California Department of Education announced Thursday.

The move came as the state also finalized a federal waiver application – first proposed in July – aimed at relieving schools from administering both the new Common Core pilot tests as well as separate, standardized end-of-year assessments.

Although there has been some speculation that the two actions are intended to satisfy U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has threatened to withhold federal funds over the state’s plan to suspend almost all K-12 standardized testing this year, it is far from clear what the outcome will be.

A spokesman for the CDE said Thursday that the department has received no indication from federal officials one way or the other.

In a plot twist only a bureaucrat could appreciate, even if the waiver is approved California would still not have test scores that could be used to fulfill federal accountability requirements as defined under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In a Nov. 21 letter to Deborah Delisle, who heads the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, state schools chief Tom Torlakson and board president Mike Kirst notes that because all California districts would be participating in the field testing, there will be no new Annual Yearly Progress determinations based on the 2013–14 school year. Instead, they said, prior AYP determinations will be used for an additional year.

Duncan announced in June that states could apply for a waiver to eliminate some federally-required testing while also implementing new assessments based on the Common Core standards – a  'double-testing' potential that the secretary said wasn't needed.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown began shaping AB 484 – the state’s vehicle for transitioning California to the Common Core. A key amendment to the bill took place in July when the decision was made to suspend almost all standardized testing in 2013-14 and press ahead with the new assessments based on the Common Core.

Originally, the field testing of the Common Core system was limited to either math or English but not both. With cost as the biggest concern, state officials initially rejected the idea of expanding the pilot testing as a potential solution of its problem with Duncan.

That changed in recent weeks. By manipulating the length of the exam – literally the number of questions students would be asked and scorers would have to evaluate – officials said they can bring the costs down.