Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy has fired off a letter to the California schools chief, protesting plans to suspend many standardized exams next year while the state develops a new system of computer-based tests.
In a two-page letter dated Friday to Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Deasy said the recommendation to drop English and math tests for second-graders, and nearly all standardized exams for high-schoolers, would make it difficult to assess student progress.
The plan, Deasy said, "has implications for school districts in working with our most at-risk populations."
In a conference call with reporters last Tuesday, Torlakson outlined his recommendations to the state Legislature to reduce the number of tests in 2013-14. This would allow the state to design and implement a new set of computer-based exams aligned with the Common Core, a national curriculum rolling out the following academic year.
The state would still give English and math tests in grades 3-8 and for science in grades 5, 8 and 10, which are required by the federal government.
Deasy raised concerns last week, then formalized his objections in the letter.
But Deasy wrote that suspending English tests for second-, ninth- and 10th-graders would impact LAUSD's ability to implement a federally approved instructional plan for its English-learners. The district would have to invest in its own system to test whether English-learners have mastered the language skills to tackle the math, science and other courses they need to graduate.
He also said that dropping so many tests would skew the results for the state's Academic Performance Index, which is used to measure academic achievement of California's public schools.
Deasy suggested that the state give local districts the option of giving the standardized tests so they could continue to monitor student growth without having to develop their own assessments.
He also said he was disappointed that Los Angeles Unified - the state's largest school district - wasn't part of the working group that developed the recommendations, so the challenges facing large and diverse districts could have been addressed.
In an email, Paul Hefner, Torlakson's chief spokesman, said that LAUSD officials never provided feedback while the plan was being developed, although state officials held several public hearings and focus groups.
"Superintendent Torlakson is pleased that - two full years into this process - Los Angeles Unified has now joined the nearly 2,000 other districts, administrators, teachers, parents and others who have provided input as we prepare for the future of student testing in California," Hefner said. "He will of course give their concerns due consideration."
He added that state officials still believe they need to reduce the number of standardized tests in order to focus on the tests tied to Common Core.
Deasy also expressed reservations about the ability of the state's largest district, with more than 500,000 students, to have the necessary technology in place to implement computer-based testing by the state's target date of 2014-15.
Los Angeles Unified has allocated nearly $100 million in bond funds to upgrade the infrastructure at 138 schools. It also wants to provide a computer tablet for every student in order to maximize participation in Common Core, although questions remain as to how that would be funded.