California Senate Approves State Testing Overhaul, Despite Federal Objections

The bill would suspend standardized testing for millions of students for one year.

Then-Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, talks in opposition to a pair of education reform bills on Jan. 5, 2010, in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the old tests are “outdated.”

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Despite strong objections from the Department of Education, California legislators passed a bill Tuesday that would suspend the state's standardized testing for millions of students this school year, as the state transitions to more rigorous assessments.

If enacted, the bill would give students and teachers a one-year break from the state's paper-and-pencil Standardized Testing and Reporting program, known as STAR, before switching to a new set of computerized assessments designed to align with the Common Core State Standards. During this school year, California would be field testing the new assessments, known as the Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP), though they would not be required statewide until the 2014-15 school year.

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement on Monday saying his office could not "in good conscience" approve of the bill, AB 484, and threatened to intervene if it moves forward.

"Raising standards to better prepare students for college and careers is absolutely the right thing to do, but letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools' performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition," Duncan said. "If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state."

Despite his objections, the California State Senate approved the overhaul Tuesday on a 25-7 vote. The bill will now move to the Assembly for approval.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the old tests are "outdated" and that the overhaul is a necessary move to help better prepare students for the future.

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"Our goals for 21st century learning, and the road ahead, are clear," Torlakson said in a statement. "We won't reach them by continuing to look in the rear-view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington."

Several senators said on the floor during debate on Tuesday that suspending the STAR tests for one year would save the cash-strapped state money, rather than funding two sets of tests. Other state leaders said it would be a less confusing transition for both students and teachers.

"AB 484 will allow us to prepare our students and staff for success rather than set them up for frustration," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randolph Ward, in a statement. "To do otherwise … will result in a schizophrenic environment in our schools that isn't in anyone's best interest."

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