What will state testing look like this year?

There has been a lot of confusion and uncertainty around the state testing regime this year, and I thought I would take a stab at explaining in simple terms where things stand as of today:

With the move to Common Core, it was only a matter of time before the old CST tests were retired.  But because the new tests, based on the Common Core standards, are not required until next school year (2014-15), there was a question about what to do this school year.  California education officials decided to do away with the old CST tests, and administer only a “field test” of the new Common Core-based English and Math tests this year.  These tests, which will be administered via computer, are being developed by a group of educators and policymakers called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  Under California’s plan, students in grades 3 through 8, and 11, will have to take the SBAC field tests this year.  Each student will take the field test in Math and English, but no individual scores will be reported, so the “validity and reliability” of the tests can be assessed before any consequences are attached to the results.  In other words, this is just an opportunity to “test the test.”  The tests are supposed to take 3.5 hours per student and will likely be administered in 45 minute increments over a long testing window from March through June.

The Legislature passed this law, called AB 484, and Governor Brown signed it in October.  According to the lead sponsor of the bill, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, “It’s time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing to shift to the Common Core and help students meet the challenges of a changing world.”  (Note that students in the 5th, 8th, and 10th grade will still take the old CST science tests this year, and the scores will be reported.  This is because the new science standards have not yet been finalized.)

The federal government, however, has pushed back, and wants California to administer the old CST tests this year, based on the old state standards, so that we will not miss out on a year of test scores.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold billions of dollars in federal aid if California does not administer – and score – the CST tests.  Thus, there is a game of educational chicken going on.  California officials have called Secretary Duncan’s bluff, and consensus in the educational community seems to be that eventually Duncan will blink, allowing the one-year break from reported scores.

For now, the bottom line is that Berkeley students in grades 3 through 8, and 11, will have to take the field test in either English or Math this spring, but individual scores will not be reported to anyone. In my view, this temporary reprieve from high-stakes standardized testing is a welcome relief, particularly in a year marked by so much change in the K-12 curriculum.  The question it raises, though, is how much time is going to be spent preparing for these “tests of the tests”?  BUSD is legally required to administer the field tests.  But we have a unique opportunity to dispense with any test prep this year.  Let’s see what happens when every instructional minute is spent on student learning, and not one is spent on test-taking strategies.