California students will no longer be using No. 2 pencils to fill in multiple-choice bubbles and instead write longer answers under a proposal to revamp the state’s testing system released by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson Tuesday.
"California’s not content to stand still,” said Torlakson during a media call Tuesday.
Torlakson’s goal is to reduce the number of tests while emphasizing critical thinking with more extended responses. Traditionally, tests in California focus on math and English. However, students are required under the Common Core Standards to understand much more. New tests are proposed to be rolled out starting in the 2014-15 school year. They will include more subjects like science and possibly be used to determine if a student meets high school graduation standards, eliminating the state’s exit exam. Tests will be scored both by hand and computers. The Legislature must sign off on changes and provide guidelines before work can get started.
Torlakson outlined 12 suggestions to move from the paper-and-pencil based Standardized Testing and Reporting Program assessments, known as STAR, with computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in his report, "Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System,” released yesterday. Making changes will take time but the ultimate goal is for students to be more prepared for college and work requirements while giving teachers more timely information.
This represents a positive step forward in standards for California, said County Deputy Superintendent Gary Waddell.
"These new standards are tightly designed and represent new ways of thinking about the content of instruction in English language arts and mathematics. Similarly, the new assessments that will accompany them represent new, deeper ways of knowing about our students. Importantly, they do what we have long been asking that assessments do — assess not only student learning, but also their ability to manipulate and synthesize knowledge and to apply what they have learned in a variety of contexts,” Waddell said.
In 2010, California joined other states establishing national academic standards, known as the Common Core Standards. However, the state has not updated the way it tests students or ranks schools. The state’s existing STAR Program assessments are scheduled to end July 1, 2014. The idea is to roll out the new recommendations in phases with the test to be first used in the 2014-15 school year. Schools that don’t have the bandwidth to support the computer tests will be allowed to use a paper and pencil alternative in the first three years, Torlakson said. In preparation, Torlakson is proposing the suspension of testing that isn’t federally mandated in the 2013-14 school year — including testing of second grade students and a number of course exams in non-core high school classes, said state Deputy Superintendent Deb Sigman.
Torlakson called for the creation of tools that would allow teachers to test students throughout the year on the subjects in hopes of better meeting the needs of students.
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who was previously a teacher, said getting results from tests over the summer was always frustrating.
California’s battery of tests is mostly used to judge how well schools are doing at teaching students. Those scores are used to generate the academic performance index, a ranking system used to compare the schools.
Also, the tests are supposed to show students understand a topic, Bonilla said. The state’s testing results show students understand the standards but more than 50 percent of them require remediation classes in college. Testing needs to change to be a more effective tool, said Bonilla, who plans to help introduce the necessarily legislation to start making the changes.
The vision for the revamped tests would be possibly eliminate the need for a separate high school exit exam and possibly to place students into college classes, according to the report.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.