SACRAMENTO — A bill ending the standardized tests that California public school students have taken in reading, math and social science since 1999 received Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on Wednesday, despite a threat by the U.S. secretary of education to withhold federal funds if the state moved forward with the plan.
Assembly Bill 484 replaces the pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice STAR tests with new language and math tests taken on computers. The new assessments, called Measurement of Academic Progress and Performance, were designed with other states to follow a set of national curriculum standards known as Common Core.
"I've said from the beginning, California needs tests that measure how ready our students are for the challenges of a changing world," said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who championed the rapid shift away from the STAR tests. "Today, we have taken a huge step in that direction by creating an assessment system focused on improving teaching and learning and by sending a clear signal about our commitment to this urgent work."
The new tests are still under development, so schools will be required to give them on a practice basis in grades 3-8 and 11 this spring, with students taking either the math or language sections, but not both.
No individual student scores, school performance reports or statewide results — measurements that parents use to gauge their children's advancement and politicians and business leaders use to compare schools — would be generated from the rollout.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has criticized California for wanting to go a year or more without reporting test scores and threatened to withhold federal funds if it made the switch. California previously had planned only to sample the new tests with about 20 percent of its 3.3 million public school students this spring.
Torlakson still is planning to seek Duncan's permission to follow the accelerated timetable called for in the bill Brown signed, and state officials have said they might be willing to implement it even if it costs the state federal dollars.
Supporters of doing away with the old tests ahead of schedule say it does not make sense for schools to give the old tests when teachers already are gearing their lessons toward Common Core, which calls for more in-depth teaching of fewer subjects and emphasizes real-world applications of material in an effort to prepare students for college and careers.
"This is one of the most important and revolutionary changes to education policy, and California is the right state to lead the way," said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, the bill's author. "With this new law, our schools can move away from outdated STAR tests and prepare students and teachers for better assessments."
California has been giving the STAR tests to all students in grades 2-11. Under the plan approved by Brown, only the science portion of the test would be given to fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders next spring before being dropped altogether a year later.
Bonilla's bill was among 13 education bills signed by the governor on Wednesday that included a measure authorizing the state Department of Education to develop tests and materials for students who are learning to speak English and matched to Common Core.