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California Could Speed Up Transition To Common Core Tests

Evening Edition

Aired 9/5/13 on KPBS News.

The plan to roll out new, online exams in California could be speeding up.

Part of transitioning California schools to new curriculum guidelines called the Common Core is changing how the state tests students.

John Pyle, 10 and Ann Sugrue-Morillo, 10, talk with Cara Serban-Lawly, director of technology and learning resources for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District about their experiences taking new, online standardized tests at Rancho Elementary School in Spring Valley, Calif., Apr. 23, 2013.

For more than a decade, California and the federal government have rated schools based on how much students progress on standardized math and English tests each year. Those multiple choice tests are being replaced by new online exams that focus more on skills such as critical thinking and forming arguments based on evidence.

This January, the state Department of Education announced it would phase out the multiple choice exams not mandated by the federal government to make room for field testing of the new exams in about 20 percent of the state's schools.

But a new bill introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla would end nearly all of the multiple choice tests this year. It would also let all schools opt in to field test the new exams.

Bonilla sees the change as an opportunity to make sure all schools are ready when scores on the new tests begin to count in 2015.

“To say 'y’know what? let’s really do this the right way,'" she said during a conference call with reporters Thursday. "Let’s make sure that all of our kids can have the opportunity to see the field test, to practice on it. Let’s let all of our teachers be able to experience the assessment.”

But schools won’t get the results for this trial run of the exams.

Deborah Sigman, who oversees testing for the California Department of Education, said that's because the field tests are to make sure the questions on the exams are clear and don't give any groups of students an unintended advantage. The field tests are not designed to produce accurate results for individual students.

Ron Rode heads accountability for San Diego Unified. He said switching between the two types of exams means there will be a couple of years when districts cannot compare test scores to measure school progress.

“It’s going to be a transition year where it's going to be a struggle to try to make those sorts of judgments," Rode said. "But certainly internal assessment goes on and there’s still accountability where we’re making sure our schools are reporting progress. And those conversations will continue to go on even without the state data.”

Bonilla’s bill funnels money that would have been used for the old multiple choice tests into expanding field testing of the new exams.

The federal Department of Education announced in August that it would consider giving states waivers from federal testing requirements to avoid double-testing any students who would take field tests of the online exams. Michael Krist, president of State Board of Education said the board plans to pursue a waiver.

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