Top California school leaders unveiled recommendations Tuesday for revamping the state testing system to be more in line with new academic expectations still being implemented.
Among the first recommendations put forth by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is to suspend testing not required by the federal government beginning this academic year. The idea is to ease into a new system being developed to conform to the Common Core Standards.
"The Common Core Standards (require a) greater level of analysis," Torlakson said in a telephone conference. "Assessments must change too."
Approved in 2010, the Common Core Standards demand different levels of analysis and thinking from students. In math, students will no longer just solve a set of equations, but will be required to explain how they arrived at the solutions.
In English, students will spend more time learning from nonfiction documents than in the past. The goal is to better prepare students for college or the workplace and for those preparations to be consistent across the country.
"No employer would measure their own staff based on how well they memorize their manual," said David Rattray of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce during the conference call. "They reward based on results. (The new) kind of testing in schools is fantastic for businesses. Students are more engaged when they have projects and are actively learning.
Because Common Core demands students no longer learn by rote, testing needs to be different, Torlakson said. New assessments will be computer based with adaptive technology, which means the tests will detect the student's ability to answer questions and modify the next set of questions appropriately.
Exams will be "more creative, not just a multiple choice test," Torlakson said. "Now they'll have to complete more complex problems."
California belongs to a group of 25 states called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing the tests and other tasks students will have to perform. The group recently released technology requirements each school must have to administer the new tests to students.
Compared with the old, fill-in-the-bubbles testing method, the new system will have a faster turnaround and will give teachers time to find areas where their students are lacking — before they leave for summer break, proponents say.
The tests will be partially graded by computer and partially by humans, they said.
California's plan is to have all students tested with the new system by 2015.
Implementation of the Common Core in Monterey County varies among districts, with Pacific Grove and Carmel ahead of the pack. Districts are receiving coaching and other assistance from the Monterey County Office of Education.
Among the tests Torlakson recommends be suspended are the California Standardized Testing for second grade, end-of-course assessment for world history and the California High School Exit Exam. He suggested they be replaced by tests already being taken by students.
"We think suspension of non-federally mandated assessments will give teachers breathing room," said Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of the California Department of Education.
But a testing expert said California education officials will end accountability if the proposed testing is implemented.
Because testing proposed by Smarter Balance is more diagnostic than summative — meaning it's designed to let teachers know how students are doing, rather than measure what they have learned — the end result would be very different than what's in place, said Doug McRae, a former executive with McGraw-Hill.
"This is a radical departure from previous assessment systems," McRae said. "If you design the test for instruction, you don't get measurements and you have eliminated accountability."
The exams will take longer to administer, and there are not enough computers for everyone to take them, McRae said.
"Testing time will go up ... up to three times, and costs three times higher," he said. "California is not ready to do this."
New laws will have to be adopted to proceed with the new testing system. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said Tuesday she will propose legislation that will implement Torlakson's recommendations.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or email@example.com.