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State schools chief urges cut in number of tests next year

Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson says second-graders would not be tested in math and English, and most high school tests would be dropped. L.A. Unified chief expresses reservations.

January 08, 2013|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • California's top education official, seen in August, released a plan Tuesday to reduce the number of standardized tests students must take.
California's top education official, seen in August, released a… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

The state's top education official has proposed reducing the number of standardized tests that students must take next year as California moves to a new testing system.

Under a plan put forward Tuesday by state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, second-graders would not be tested in math and English next year. Most high school tests would also be dropped.

If lawmakers approve the plan, schools would be evaluated on a narrower range of test data for a period of one year, before a new system is put in place.

Local education officials have questioned the move, saying reduced testing will complicate efforts to track student and teacher performance.

The current generation of tests is set to end entirely after the 2013-14 school year, and Torlakson said his recommendations would ease the transition to new tests.

The state would still test for English and math in grades 3 through 8 and for science in grades 5, 8 and 10, as required by the federal government. The high school exit exam, which is necessary for graduation in California, would also remain in place.

The current tests have "proven to be a very powerful tool" for improving learning, Torlakson said, but "we need to move ... to a new assessment."

Future standardized tests will be administered on computers and exam contents will be tailored to the student's skill level, officials say. The goal is a deeper and more precise measure of a what a student knows

The state is moving beyond traditional multiple choice tests to ones that evaluate understanding and problem solving, said David Rattray, an official with Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy expressed serious concerns about the plan Tuesday. The suspension of tests for second-graders would make it harder to identify students who need help as part of the district's push to get all students proficient in math and English by third grade, he said. And officials would have trouble measuring progress in high schools because of the disruption.

The district's proposed teacher evaluation system also relies on data that would not be collected next year.

Eliminating the tests would also complicate calculations for the state's Academic Performance Index, the state's primary measure for schools. Index ratings are based on test scores. The current state tests are also part of a federally approved L.A. Unified plan to improve the performance of students who are learning English. To stay in compliance, L.A. Unified might have to find and purchase other tests for about 40,000 students, officials said.

"I've got some pretty serious dilemmas in front of me," said Deasy.

At the state level, fewer tests will save money. Funds not spent on testing could be used to help move to the new exams, said Deputy Supt. Deborah Sigman.

The state spends $54 million annually for California Standards Tests and $11 million for the high school exit exam.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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