There's more than meets the eye in the U.S. Education Department's threat last week to take billions of dollars from California schools as punishment for the state's decision to end most current standardized tests a year early in violation of federal regulations.
California and the Education Department have been battling for years over aspects of education policy, such as the feds' desire for states to incorporate test scores into teacher evaluations. This threat seems to be the culmination of that fight.
They need to compromise to waive the federal requirements. It doesn't make sense to spend time on the inadequate STAR test for one more year -- any more than it does to take billions of dollars out of California's classrooms.
The California Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown were right to end those tests a year earlier than planned and give schools more time to prepare for the new Common Core standards, curriculum and testing. Instead of STAR, next spring students will take a practice version of a Common Core test, which won't be scored. Forgoing standardized test scores for a year isn't ideal, but what California kids are getting -- more class time spent on the new, better curriculum and the chance to practice taking the new tests -- is worth it.
Given that the state and federal governments share the primary goal of a successful transition to Common Core, they should be able to set aside their differences. Perhaps California can give students both the language arts and math portions of the practice test next spring, rather than one or the other as planned. Maybe there's a way to make some data public on the so-called "test of the test" next spring. Or perhaps the state can finally agree to thoughtfully incorporate standardized test scores into teacher evaluations. "Thoughtfully" is the key here. Scores should be part of evaluations, but doing it well is not simple.
California is doing more than any other state to ensure the success of the Common Core, a new set of national education standards that should help students learn to explore, experiment and analyze rather than just memorize. The state is spending $1.25 billion this year to provide technology, training and materials. Giving all students a chance to practice on the new test in the spring rather than take the obsolete STAR test makes sense.
California's work on Common Core is crucial to the nationwide effort to improve educational quality and equity. The federal government should be doing all it can to help, not threatening to undermine the state's work.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has waived federal accountability law for dozens of states. His department and California officials have to keep talking.