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Old Standardized Test Must Be Left Behind To Move Ahead, Bonilla Says

by Michael Higham, published

AB 484 Signed, California Done With Old Standardized Testing System Credit: Aspen Photo /

Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 484 on October 2, ending California's K-12 standardized testing system and moving toward a new one. STAR testing will no longer be administered, it will be replaced by Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) tests aligned with the Common Core curriculum.

New tests are computerized and adaptive to student responses, rooted in the nationwide effort Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. According to the bill's author, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, the tests are "computer adaptive, which means if they answer questions correctly it will become harder. But, if they're missing a number of questions the test will then go down a level to see what the level of learning actually is."

Bonilla explained how the new system becomes part of an entire school year, leading up to the actual test:

"We're not going to just wait until May to give a multiple choice test. Now there will be tests that can be given throughout the year. There will be a question bank which teachers can access online and give to their students to measure their progress. It's a very comprehensive approach to assessment, it's more than just giving a high stakes test at the end of the year."

Opponents of AB 484 have stressed the fact that the state won't have an accountability method for student performance this year since the bill was amended to cancel STAR testing. A coalition of organizations including Students First, Parent Revolution, EdVoice and others, oppose the legislation and stated in a letter to Governor Brown:

"AB 484 sets no specific deadline for full implementation of new assessments and denies teachers any uniform information on student progress. While far from perfect, many current testing tools provide relevant information to monitor progress, make decisions about courses and identify struggling students in need of extra support."

Bonilla responded to concerns:

"I’ve spoken with teachers who have explained that there are entire new units of study in Common Core and that to test students with old STAR tests would not reflect what the students have really learned.”

If the state is moving toward a Common Core curriculum -- whether you agree with it or not -- its testing system should reflect the curriculum. Bonilla stated, "the validity of any STAR tests or the data they would produce would be questionable with the new curriculum being introduced." She explained the dilemma between continuing and discontinuing the old system:

“If we continued the STAR, we would be giving our teachers a mixed message: ‘We want you to teach Common Core, but we are going to test on the old curriculum.’  Now AB 484 makes it clear that we are implementing Common Core and everyone will have this year to focus on making the change.”

California schools will have this year to engage in practice tests with the new computer-based system in order to help with the transition. Only one half of the test, either English or math, is required by the state for the this year's transition period. Bonilla says the objective is to focus on the transition. Schools may opt into taking both assessments.

In a previous article, it was reported that AB 484 caught the attention of the federal Department of Education (DoE). A standardized test like STAR is part of the current federal mandate through No Child Left Behind. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's main concern is that California should require testing both to meet federal mandates. The state and federal government are engaged in negotiations on how the new testing system fits into federal requirements.

AB 484 will be the least of the federal government's concerns for now in the midst of shutdown. It could be a while before the DoE takes action on California's new standardized testing plans.

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