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Richmond students caught in the middle of two tests

on October 3, 2013

Public school students and teachers in Richmond are caught in the middle between divergent sets of testing standards.

Students are required to take and pass two types of assessments – the often criticized Standardized Testing and Reporting model and the incoming critical thinking standards of Common Core.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement, “It’s simply wrong to expect schools to prepare our students for the future while continuing to ask them to use tests that are products of the past.” He added,  “It’s time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing to shift to the Common Core and help students meet the challenges of a changing world.”

But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in a statement, “If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state.”

Assembly Bill 484 allows California school districts to withdraw a year early from current testing standards and fully shift to the incoming Common Core standards, becoming pilot schools for the new assessments. The bill passed quickly through the California legislature this September, but then met equally swift opposition from the US Department of Education.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the bill into law.

The federal government has concerns regarding accountability, transparency with student outcomes, and skepticism about what a pilot testing program means for students.

Local school officials are hopeful that the differences between state and federal officials can be resolved. “There needs to be some conversation between the U.S. Department of Education and the California Department of Education,” said Nia Rashidchi, Assistant Superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “I believe they can work anything out as long as they have the students in mind at the forefront of every decision they make and every action they take.”

The Common Core curriculum is a movement towards a unified national set of education standards that focuses on critical thinking and deeper understanding of complex topics. Each state presently has its own set of standards, and there is no coordination between states in regards to what children are learning. With the implementation of Common Core teachers, parents and administrators would be able to compare student data nationwide.

WCCUSD administrators and community members are in the process of mapping a new Strategic Plan for the district and the passage of AB 484 is viewed as crucial to that planning process.

“We already are transitioning to the Common Core,” Rashidchi said. “The more practice we can give our teachers and students with those new and exciting and different types of assessments the better we will be able to help prepare them. And not just for the test but really to become critical thinkers, to become collaborators, to be able to analyze well and summarize well, and to really develop those 21st century skills that make students college and career ready.”

Correction: This story originally reported that AB 484 awaited the governor’s signature. On Wednesday, October 2nd, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 484 into law.


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