Gov. Jerry Brown plans to call for less statewide testing, and expanding lessons beyond math and English, in his annual State of the State address today, according to his top education adviser.
The Democratic governor faces a pivotal year as he asks voters to pass nearly $7 billion annually in higher taxes to shore up the state budget. At the same time, he wants lawmakers to reshape K-12 education by eliminating earmarks for school programs and redefining the state's yardstick for education performance.
Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education, told K-12 officials Tuesday that Brown will ask lawmakers to reduce the load of statewide tests students are required to take each year. She spoke at an annual budget workshop produced by School Services of California, which advises districts on how to plan for the upcoming school year.
"We think there's way, way too much testing in our system right now," Burr said. "Just as an example, a 10th-grade student takes 15 hours' worth of tests. So that sophomore is losing 15 hours of their instructional program."
Burr said that while some testing is necessary for measuring schools, Brown will ask lawmakers to "take (hours) away from testing and give it back to instruction."
She did not provide specific details, she said, because Brown was preparing to "roll these out (today) in his State of the State."
Gil Duran, the governor's press secretary, would not confirm the content of Brown's address. He said Brown was still crafting his speech and that only the governor knew what he would say today.
Since running for governor in 2010, Brown has criticized the current roster of standardized tests, which he believes focus too much on memorization. On his campaign website, he wrote, "Tests should not measure factoids as much as understanding."
Despite his distrust of the current system, he vetoed a plan last year by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that would have required a new measurement system by 2014 with greater emphasis on factors such as dropout rates, college eligibility and career preparation.
In his veto message, Brown wrote, "Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine."
The governor also expressed his apparent view that testing saps the benefits of learning: "SB 547 nowhere mentions good character or love of learning. It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can't be placed in a data stream."
Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said he was encouraged by Burr's remarks despite what he called his "dust-up" with the governor last year.
"How we evaluate schools determines what schools choose to teach," Steinberg said. "And I'm glad that the governor believes we've gone overboard on the testing piece. If we're in agreement there, the second piece is, what are we going to replace testing with?"
Students in grades two through 11 take the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) tests each spring, with results released in August. Students at all grade levels take English and math exams, while older students also take tests on science and history.
A study last year by the nonprofit Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd found that 40 percent of California elementary school teachers said they teach an hour or less of science each week. The study concluded that elementary students lack access to "high-quality" science education, blaming it on state and federal testing systems that focus mostly on English and math.
Brown wants to shift the state's testing focus away from those subjects, Burr suggested.
"We've spent way too much time over the last several years narrowing our curriculum to English language arts and mathematics," she said. "While those are critically important, we can't ignore history. We can't ignore science. We can't ignore civics. We can't ignore the arts."
The governor also wants to give local officials greater control over what gets tested in their districts, a point Brown made last year in his veto message.
Burr said Brown will also pursue changes that seek to improve all educators, not just rewarding top performers and firing the worst. "We think that's a wrongheaded conversation," she said of the latter approach. "We must build the capacity of all of our teachers."