We agree that California's methods of measuring the progress of its public-school students needs vast improvement and we applaud the well-intentioned effort to more precisely and effectively measure cognition and critical-thinking skills. But we worry that the devil may be in the details in implementing such a plan.
The plan for Common Core State Standards has been adopted in California and should begin in the 2014-2015 school year.
Meeting such standards means the state must prepare and test its students differently than it does currently. Students will not only be required to complete standardized, multiple-question answers on tests as they do now, but also will be tested on in-depth essays and other projects that students must complete on computers.
Two years may sound like a long time, but it is not. At least, not for implementing a change of this scope and complexity.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson made that point earlier this week when he offered proposals -- some of them dramatic departures from current practice -- for the Legislature and the governor to consider. Some form of what Torlakson proposed will almost certainly be approved.
Torlakson has rightly realized that there is far more to the matter than simply changing the memory-driven tests that are administered to the state's public school children. He warned that making the changes needed for students to perform effectively will not be cheap. In fact, he estimated that the total cost could be somewhere around $1 billion over the long haul.
We have yet to meet a leader in the state's education establishment who didn't believe that spending more money is the answer no matter what the question. But, in this case, we must agree that the price tag will be substantial. After all, this is a dramatic shift of focus and curricula must be revamped, teachers must be retrained, teaching methods must be adjusted and equipment -- lots of it -- must be purchased and used.
The burning question, of course, is whether this is the right place to spend the money. We are convinced that it is.
While we have always been staunch advocates for any measure that will provide accountability, we have always believed that California's testing protocols relied far too heavily on rote learning and, frankly, were not an accurate measure of success.
Torlakson on Tuesday offered an array of proposals, some of which will be controversial. We will assess them individually and comment on those proposals as they wind their way through the Legislative labyrinth.
For now, we express the ideal hope that our public schools will be turning out students who have both a well-developed ability to use memory as well as a substantial capacity to process those things they have memorized into cogent thought.
Employers, colleges and society as a whole want graduates who not only can remember, but also think.
Honestly, that is a much tougher level to achieve, but it is worth the effort in the long run.