Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla says her bill would give the state's students a chance at a "trial run" of a new testing system.

Bill would cancel STAR testing in math, English this year in California's schools

Published: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 9:44 am

California students and teachers are set to receive a one-year reprieve from standardized testing requirements that have become a routine part of school culture each spring.

A plan introduced Wednesday in the state Legislature would end the use of STAR tests in math and English for the school year already under way – a year earlier than planned.

In their place, schools could opt in to computer-based assessments aligned to new curriculum standards called Common Core.

The annual release of the data gathered from state assessments would be suspended as well.

The one-year lift on public reporting requirements comes after statewide declines on English and math STAR tests last school year. The state Department of Education attributed those declines to years of budget cuts and teacher preparations for new Common Core teaching methods.

"This is going to give all the students in California the opportunity to do a trial run on the new testing system without there being any high stakes involved," said Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a former high school teacher from Concord, who is carrying legislation to implement the change.

Bonilla said there was concern that teachers would be expected to teach according to Common Core standards but be held accountable for results on outdated STAR tests.

Assembly Bill 484 originally called for 20 percent of the state's schools to participate in a trial run of the new tests.

Under amendments made Wednesday, any district could opt in to the computer-based test this school year.

"It's appropriate because if you are teaching to the standards, why give a multiple-choice test that is the old STAR test?" said teacher John Ennis, who is also president of the Twin Rivers teacher union. "I think we are over-tested, and having a break will be good."

Bill Lucia of the education advocacy group EdVoice said suspending accountability methods will make it difficult for school districts to show their communities they are serving their students well.

"It's a lot of flexibility with little leadership," Lucia said. "It would have been nice to have this conversation back in the spring."

Gov. Jerry Brown's office offered strong support of Bonilla's bill Wednesday.

"AB 484 shows California's commitment to implementing Common Core standards and helping every student succeed," said Evan Westrup, a Brown spokesman, in a statement.

In this year's budget, Brown and the Legislature set aside $1.25 billion in additional K-12 funding for school districts to prepare for the transition to Common Core.

The State Board of Education unanimously adopted Common Core standards in 2010, despite concerns that a nationally used curriculum was weaker than existing standards. State Department of Education officials have lauded the new approach for prioritizing critical thinking over memorization. Forty-five states have adopted the new standards and are in various stages of implementation.

The outgoing STAR program began in 1999, requiring students to be tested in English language arts, mathematics, science and history at certain grade levels. The results of those tests are given to parents, while state and federal accountability models aggregate the data for school and district results.

Students in fifth, eighth and 10th grades will continue to take the science portion of the STAR test this year before it's dropped in 2014-2015.

Once the new computer-based test – called Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress, or MAPP – becomes mandatory next year, schools will be given the option of a paper-and-pencil version for three years, if needed.

"It's time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing to shift to the Common Core and help students meet the challenges of a changing world," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who sponsored the bill, in a statement.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez.

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