CA Suspends Student Testing While State Builds Common Core

Common Core
AP Photo/AJ Mast
Los Angeles, CA

The California Board of Education has suspended the state Academic Performance Index (API) for the 2014-15 school year while it constructs a new school accountability system based on the state’s four-year-old federal Common Core standards.

The API measures schools on a statewide level to determine the level of improvements needed at each school in following years.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced the Board’s unanimous decision Wednesday, saying new tests based on the Common Core curriculum are too different from previous standards tests to begin implementing this year, according to CBS Los Angeles.

“This is really the start of, I think, the whole implementation process,” Board President Michael Kirst told CBS’ KNX-1070. “You can’t move from low-level standards to standards that make students college and career-ready overnight.”

According to the Associated Press, the new “Smarter Balanced” Common Core-based tests must be taken on a computer or laptop. The Los Angeles Unified School District initially had trouble administering the tests due to slow Internet connectivity and crashing websites, but the district reportedly corrected the issue and is now offering the test in 94 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) public schools.

The tests will be given to students in grades 3-8, and to students in their junior year of high school. While the old standards tests were multiple choice, Smarter Balanced tests require students to provide their own answers.

Educators and parents seem to be split over the Board’s decision to suspend the Performance Index, and more broadly, over the Smarter Balanced test itself.

“We feel that accountability is very important to the public, but it’s sensible to delay because the information is not all going to be clear and solid and current and we need the transition time,” California PTA Education Commissioner Celia Jaffe told the AP.

“We need that next year to look at this issue of growth,” LAUSD chief of external affairs Edgar Zarzueta added to the outlet.

While school districts and some educators are pleased with the Board’s decision, others doubt the efficacy and suitability of the new Smarter Balanced tests.

“Given my background as a publisher of mathematics curriculum and software, I was keenly interested to see whether the vision of better tests had been fulfilled,” writes Steven Rasmussen at education blog EdSurge. “What I found shocked me: a quagmire of poor technological design, poor interaction design, and poor mathematics that hopelessly clouds the insights the tests might give us into students’ thinking.”

“It’s no wonder that districts have decided to opt out of the new rounds of testing,” he continued. “Schools and school boards that participate in the testing should ignore the results – they are not accurate measures of mathematical understanding.”

The API will be suspended for the 2014-15 school year, however Board president Kirst reassured wary educators and parents that schools’ test scores will still be recorded on the local, school, and district levels.

“They’ll be held accountable to the public,” Kirst told the AP.