Mountain View Voice

News - September 13, 2013

Fast forward to Common Core?

Local school district superintendents have differing views on state Assembly bill

by Nick Veronin

State lawmakers are currently considering a bill allowing California school districts to drop the California Standards Test a year early, to allow teachers to focus on preparing students for the newly adopted, national public school curriculum standards, known as "Common Core."

The idea of jumping ahead to the new standards appeals to the superintendent of the local high school district, while the head of Mountain View's elementary- and middle-school district said he can see upsides and downsides to pushing out the old system a year early.

Introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, (D-Concord), Assembly Bill 484 would give authority to superintendents to call off most of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exams scheduled for later this year. In their place, school districts would have the opportunity to administer a practice Common Core exam to students. According to Bonilla, the two-pronged approach of dumping the old tests and giving districts a chance to try out the new exams will ensure that students and teachers are all the more prepared come the 2014-15 school year.

The Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states, aim to put the entire national public school system on the same page — all of the states that have adopted the standards will soon be teaching reading, writing and arithmetic in relatively the same way. In theory, a student who suddenly moves from one Common Core state to another, will be able to pick up exactly where they left off, without having to adjust to an entirely new system.

In California, that means the state will be doing away with its STAR tests and adopting a new set of Common Core standardized tests.

This year was to be the final year STAR tests would be given to students in California public schools. But Bonilla has a concern since the main purpose of the test is to give districts the ability to track student performance. Considering the fact that the tests will be replaced next year with the new Common Core tests, Bonilla said she believes it doesn't make sense to require teachers to have to both prepare their students for the new tests and curriculum while simultaneously preparing them for one last go on the old standards.

"We don't want to say we're going into a new system and test them on the old system," Bonilla said.

"I'm in favor of it," said Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District. "It doesn't make sense to have a new curriculum on the way but test on the old curriculum."

Groves also said he would be open to having his schools take the Common Core field test.

Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman elementary district, said he was on the fence when it comes to AB 484.

While he understands the logic of ditching the old exams with Common Core just over the horizon, he said the plan could put an extra burden on his district to figure out a way to measure student's progress over the previous year.

"As a continuous improvement school district, it's important for us to have metrics to keep track of our progress," he said. Though he called the current exams an "imperfect tool," Goldman said it was nevertheless a familiar tool, which has "assisted us in determining how to best focus our resources. To get rid of an assessment tool without having a substitute for it would be similar to losing our guidance system."

Goldman said he would have to see more information about the Common Core field test before he would want to have district students take it.

Bonilla said she empathizes with Goldman's concern. "We understand that this is a transitional period, so we're not expecting perfection," she said. The bill is now in print and is still being considered by the state Legislature. Bonilla is working with Tom Torlakson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. If the bill is approved, state education officials will seek a waiver from the Secretary of Education's office, which would allow them to use the Common Core field test as a substitute for many of the exams currently used to demonstrate to the federal government that the state's education system is hitting required achievement marks.

The new law would not completely eliminate all STAR exams. According to Bonilla, the bill would maintain the current state science exams in grades five, eight and 10. They would also keep the 11th-grade high school exit exam, which is required for kids who want to graduate early.

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