CA schools plan new critical thinking testing

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(Excerpt from press release)

SACRAMENTO – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today recommended shifting the focus of standardized testing in California to require students to think critically, solve problems, and show a greater depth of knowledge-key tenents of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In a report to the Governor and Legislature, Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System, Torlakson made a dozen recommendations that would fundamentally change the state’s student assessment system, replacing the paper-and-pencil based Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program assessments with computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) starting in the 2014?15 school year.

“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore, and it’s time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” Torlakson said.

“As a teacher, what’s most exciting is that these new tests will serve as models for the kind of high-quality teaching and learning we want in every classroom every day,” Torlakson continued. “The concept is simple but powerful: if our tests require students to think critically and solve problems to do well on test day, those same skills are much more likely to be taught in our classrooms day in and day out.”

Torlakson’s report was mandated by Assembly Bill 250 (Brownley, D-Santa Monica), which the State Superintendent sponsored, to bring school curriculum, instruction, and the state assessment system into alignment with the CCSS. The state’s existing STAR Program assessments are scheduled to sunset July 1, 2014.

California is one of 45 states and three territories that formally have adopted the CCSS for mathematics and English?language arts. The proposed revisions to align the state’s assessment system with the new standards mark a key milestone in implementing the Common Core.

California serves as a governing state in SBAC, a multistate?led group that has been working collaboratively to develop a student assessment system aligned with the CCSS.

The SBAC was designed to meet federal- and state-level accountability requirements and provide teachers and parents with timely and accurate information to measure and track individual student growth.

Among the 12 recommendations is the suspension of particular STAR Program assessments for the coming school year unless the exams are specifically mandated by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or used for the Early Assessment Program (EAP). This would suspend STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course exams at the high-school level. The list of assessments is attached.

Torlakson also recommends that the state provide formative diagnostic tools developed by SBAC to all schools, which would provide teachers and schools with the option of receiving continuing informal feedback on the progress of students throughout the school year.

As required by AB 250, Torlakson’s recommendations reflect an assessment system that would meet the requirements of the current ESEA. But the report also puts forth several different approaches of assessment and urges policymakers to question the current regimen of testing all students, every year, in English?language arts and mathematics.

Through work group meetings, focus groups, regional public meetings, a statewide survey, and an e-mail account specifically for public comments, thousands of stakeholders provided input to the California Department of Education regarding the state’s transition to a new assessment system.

“I extend my gratitude to the many teachers, school administrators, parents, students, business leaders, and higher education faculty for their expertise and experience that contributed to the formation of these recommendations, Torlakson said.

Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System can be found on the Statewide Pupil Assessment System Web page. More information on California’s efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards can be found on the California Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards Web page.

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