The most sensible way to implement new standardized tests in California is to:
A. Require school districts to give the STAR test one more time, even as scores are dropping and educators and students alike know that the exam is being phased out.
B. Mandate one more year of STAR testing while simultaneously giving students a new pilot test and requiring teachers to learn the new Common Core curriculum.
C. Dump the STAR test now, and allow teachers and students to focus on learning and adjusting to Common Core in preparation for the first official round of testing in spring 2015.
The common sense answer is C. And after much debate, it appears California may be moving in that direction. But if that effort fails, California will continue on a path toward both A and B, meaning more time, money and energy wasted on a testing program that's already headed for the shelf.
A bill working its way through the state Legislature would allow all districts in the state to accelerate the schedule. AB 484 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would officially replace the STAR program with the new Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress system. The bill, which has been approved in the Assembly and is now in the state Senate, makes sense. By suspending STAR, it would allow teachers and students to focus on the new program, giving more credibility and more meaning to pilot testing this spring. Moreover, it would allow students and parents to get a better understanding of Common Core, a new curriculum that will replace the education and testing systems set up in response to the federal No Child Left Behind program established in 2001.
Under No Child Left Behind, 100 percent of all students were supposed to be proficient or advanced in specific subject areas by next spring. California made great progress on test scores. But given the poverty, mobility and language barriers that plague student populations in many school districts, it was an unrealistic goal from the start.
Unlike the STAR test, which is focused on fact-memorization and traditional pencil-and-paper tests, Common Core is designed to develop critical thinking and writing skills and encourage links between disciplines such as English and chemistry. Moreover, the computer-based testing adjusts to the skill levels of the specific student, providing a better snapshot of individual student performance.
There are certainly downsides. This new system would create a one-year gap in state testing (the pilot tests won't be released publicly) and there will be no way to compare past STAR results with the new scores. At the same time, this accelerated schedule would be timely as school districts are just now getting their first round of funding — $622 million statewide — to buy the technology and materials needed to prepare for the new curriculum.
As state Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said last week, "It's time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync" with the work schools are doing and will be doing. It's a common sense approach.