State Assembly considers bill to replace standardized testing

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The California State Assembly is considering a proposal to replace current K-12 standardized testing with the new Common Core testing, which lawmakers hope will improve students’ critical thinking skills.

Assembly Bill 484, authored by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would end the STAR tests that California schools use to judge performance in math and English.

Unlike current testing methods, the new assessments will have public school students take statewide assessments on computers and explain their reasoning through essays in both English and math subjects.

California K-12 schools are transitioning from the current curriculum to the Common Core curriculum, which has been adopted by 45 states. Teachers will be trained to prepare their students for the Common Core standard, which will be adopted by all schools by the 2014-15 school year.

“If you’re in the middle of switching but using the old test, what’s the relevancy of the data you’re collecting?” said Karen Hemphill, president of the Berkeley Unified School District School Board.

The new curriculum is intended to teach students to think conceptually and write analytically in all subjects. The STAR tests do not reflect the curriculum of the Common Core, and this bill aims to make that adjustment sooner.

Frank Worrell, a campus professor in the Graduate School of Education, said the Common Core program will benefit students by preparing them to think conceptually, as is required at the college level.

“What we need to see is the conceptual understanding in students who didn’t necessarily have good conceptual understanding before,” Worrell said. “It will be interesting for us to look at our materials and see that we are actually in line with what they are doing at K-12.”

If the bill is passed, students will take field tests of the new Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress in place of math and English STAR tests this school year. MAPP is a set of assessments aligned to Common Core, and AB 484 includes plans to permanently replace STAR with MAPP in the 2014-15 school year.

The currently used Academic Performance Index, a collection of data from standardized tests, would not be recorded for the next two years, because the data collected from the new testing curriculum cannot be compared to the API data taken from the previous STAR tests.

The bill has been cleared by the Senate Appropriations Committee and is awaiting a vote on the state Senate floor.

“We will know so much more after the State Accountability meeting in October,” said Debbi D’Angelo, the Berkeley school district’s director of evaluation and assessment, in an email. “Through the hard work from the teachers and professional development department, we are preparing students for these exciting changes.”

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].