Common Core test finally pushes out API

Common coreGoodbye API, hello Smarter Balanced test.

That’s what California public school students face as the school year comes to an end. The Academic Performance Index, used to measure and monitor students’ progress statewide, was implemented by the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999. But the state Board of Education just exempted schools from taking the API this year. It was going to be gone for good next year anyway.

The Smarter Balanced test is part of the new Common Core standards the state is implementing along with most other states. Smarter Balanced was given to students last year on a trial basis, with another trial scheduled for this year.

As AP reported, Board President Michael “Kirst said that even if the new test results aren’t used on the state index, they will still be reported at the school, district and state level. ‘They’ll be held accountable to the public,’ he said.”

Officials believed it didn’t make sense to burden students with the time and effort to take two tests, one of which no longer will be given.

As the Monterey Herald noted, “The API is at odds with the federal system to measure growth, and over the years school administrators grew upset with having two different systems that often yielded conflicting results. In many instances, particular schools were making progress according to the API, but were falling behind according to the federal Adequate Yearly Progress report.”

Breathing room

School districts had warned officials they weren’t ready to administer the new Smarter Balanced tests, much less to perform well. In a case seen as indicative of the size of the problem, Los Angeles Unified School District struggled with the newly computerized format of the test. “At LAUSD,” the Associated Press reported, “there were numerous problems when a practice test was administered, including the website crashing and slow connectivity.”

Although district officials told the AP those issues had been resolved and tests now underway in 94 schools, LAUSD was able to proceed with confidence because of the breathing room it secured along with several other school districts. It was their request which state officials accepted to suspend state accountability rankings. Concerned that students would face struggles of their own transitioning away from pencil-and-paper testing, the school districts convinced officials to treat the results as a diagnostic only.

In a further effort to blunt the force of change, administrators have ensured the testing window now stretches out over weeks, not the handful of days used under the previous regime.

Looking for the exits

Across the country, some legislators have made moves toward targeting Common Core for opt-out provisions. One New York Assemblyman introduced what he called the Common Core Parental Refusal Act.

In that state, opinions on Common Core have become sharply divided. In a forum printing letters from opponents and supporters in school administration, the Washington Post featured one principal who warned of daunting failure rates on the horizon:

“If we were to retain all third graders who scored a ‘1’ on our Common Core tests (1 signifies below basic and 3 is proficient), New York would retain about 45 percent of black or Latino students, 75 percent of students with disabilities, and 75 percent of English language learners. Is your state prepared to do that?”

In California, however, parents have been able to withdraw their children from standardized tests at their discretion since 1996. According to California Education Code section 60615:

“[N]otwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted.”

Common Core

The Common Core website explained the controversial origin of the standards, an unprecedented recent effort to overhaul the way America educates:

“State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.”

Although other states have seen vehement disagreement over the Common Core, in California the standards have received relatively strong support among parents, teachers and administrators.

Republicans generally have led the opposition to Common Core nationally and in California. But last week the program was endorsed by Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto.

AP reported that last Thursday, “Olsen broke from Republican activists and GOP presidential contenders who have blasted a set of rigorous academic standards in schools known as Common Core. Olsen said she is a strong supporter of the education overhaul’s goals of expanding critical thinking and problem solving and blasted myths about Common Core, such as a rumor that it would mandate the collection of children’s DNA.”

Olsen herself said of Common Core, “I think it certainly can be successful. We have to try something different because the status quo that was making us 46th out of 50 in the nation is unacceptable.” She was referring to California students’ low scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

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