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SCVNews.com | Computer-based Assessments Could Replace Star Tests | 09-04-2013
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Tom Torlakson

Tom Torlakson

New amendments to pending legislation call for allowing far more students to participate in field testing of new computer-based assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards this school year and suspending the use of most STAR tests, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, and Assemblymember Susan Bonilla jointly announced Wednesday.

Signaling the state’s commitment to the deeper learning and critical thinking embedded in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Assembly Bill 484, sponsored by Torlakson and authored by Bonilla, D-Concord, now calls for nearly all of the decade-old Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program to be suspended during field tests of new assessments known as the Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP). The bill calls for the new program to permanently replace STAR tests in the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing to shift to the Common Core and help students meet the challenges of a changing world,” Torlakson said. “It’s simply wrong to expect schools to prepare our students for the future while continuing to ask them to use tests that are products of the past.”

The MAPP testing program will be made up of assessments being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two multistate organizations formed to create the next generation of assessments aligned to the Common Core.

The field tests of the new assessments, set for the spring of 2014, are designed as “tests of the tests.” The consortium recently announced that the field tests will be widely available, allowing states to offer them to more than a representative sampling of students.

“California now has the chance to allow more students and schools to get a chance to test drive these new, computer-based assessments, and we need to take advantage of that opportunity,” Kirst said.

“This bill will free up instructional space in the classroom as teachers fully embrace and implement the Common Core Standards,” said Bonilla. “Students will now have the opportunity to participate in the field test, beginning the shift to the new computer-based assessments which will require students to analyze and solve problems.”

As originally written, the bill—based on recommendations from Torlakson—would have continued all federally required STAR tests for one more year during the transition. The revised legislation now calls for a full suspension of STAR tests in mathematics and English-language arts, while leaving science tests in place. The legislation also leaves in place voluntary primary language assessments and specialized assessments for students with severe disabilities.

“Supporting a transition plan for the new state assessment system is just common sense. Our current testing system is limited measuring only rote memorization of facts, but the new assessments will actually measure how students apply knowledge and solve complex problems,” said David Rattray, senior vice president of the education and workforce division at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. “As co-sponsors of this bill, we know that this is what the business community needs in order to have a trained and skilled workforce that will allow us to compete in a global market.”

The bill also makes a suite of formative tools and interim assessments available to schools at every grade level at no expense to school districts, providing teachers with ready-to-use examples of the kind of problems students will be expected to tackle on the new tests.

Because of the transition from one assessment system to another—and, therefore, the lack of comparable data—the new legislation lifts the requirement that the State Superintendent develop an Academic Performance Index, or API, for schools for the next two years. For the same reason, the legislation also restricts the use of data from the field tests to test development purposes only.

The bill, which cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

“All of this represents a challenge—but a manageable one—for California’s education system,” said Torlakson, whose Department of Education is in the midst of releasing $1.25 billion in new state funds to support districts as they implement Common Core. “But these recommendations also represent a tremendous opportunity for California’s students. We’re using Common Core as the foundation for remodeling our education system—and if we’re changing the way we teach students, we have to change how we test them, too.”

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