California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday that replaces current public school state standardized tests with ones aligned to new national learning goals.
The governor's decision also tees up a looming confrontation with the Obama administration, which criticized the California legislation.
The new law will pay for school districts to shift quickly to new computerized tests that would be based on learning goals, called the Common Core standards, adopted by 45 states. The new approach is intended to emphasize deeper critical-thinking skills.
The legislation also has ended state funding for exams used since 1999. Unless school districts pay for their own testing, there will be no scores this year available to students, schools and districts because the new test is going through a trial period. The bill would permit a further postponement of scores, if needed.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supports Common Core efforts, but he also had insisted that providing test results is necessary to keep parents informed. He said such such information is vital in determining whether teachers and schools are successful. The Legislature passed the bill despite Duncan's disapproval.
Brown consistently expressed strong support for the bill, but did not sign it right away, pending discussions with federal officials.
Duncan then took pains to praise Brown's overall record on education.
By early this week, Brown decided to act. It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the partial shutdown of the federal government had on Brown's timing. But the U.S. Education Department was among the federal agencies that essentially suspended operations.
In a tweet, Brown talked of "taking decisive action...for California's students."
"With this new law, our schools can move away from outdated...tests and prepare students and teachers for better assessments that reflect the real-world knowledge needed for young people to succeed in college and careers,” said Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord), who authored the legislation.
Praise also came from David Rattray, an official with the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Our current testing system is limited, measuring only rote memorization of facts, but the new assessments will actually measure how students apply knowledge and solve complex problems,” Rattray said. "This is what the business community needs in order to have a trained and skilled workforce."
The critics include Bill Lucia, the head of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based advocacy group.
“The clock just got turned back 20 years to a time of no state testing in California and lack of accountability in public schools for actual student learning," Lucia said.
Duncan's department and California have been at odds periodically over high-profile Race to the Top grants and waivers from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state lost out on both because of its unwillingness to mandate the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.
The current dispute has the highest stakes if the Obama administration chooses to penalize California by withholding federal funds. These dollars typically make up about 10% of school district budgets, accounting for about $600 million in the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example.
The federal Education Department had no immediate response.
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