Fewer Tests in Golden State?

Less Testing in California’s Future
by Valerie Strauss

California Governor Jerry Brown has gone further than any other governor in blasting test-based school reform, saying in mid-January 2012 that he wants to reduce the number of standardized tests students take, give more authority to local school boards and design a system to measure education performance that is less test-centric than the one now in use.

In his State of the State 2012 address, Brown explained that he was vetoing an education bill because it relied too heavily on standardized tests for high-stakes accountability purposes. He said students take too many standardized tests, and that the results are given too late for teachers to get much use out of them. He also said that state and federal governments have too much power when it comes to making decisions about education and that he wants to return some to local school boards.

Brown said, “Our schools consume more tax dollars than any other government activity and rightly so as they have a profound effect on our future. Since everyone goes to school, everyone thinks they know something about education and in a sense they do. But that doesn’t stop experts and academics and foundation consultants from offering their ideas — usually labeled reform and regularly changing at ten year intervals — on how to get kids learning more and better. Ia state with six million students, 300,000 teachers, deep economic divisions and a hundred different languages, some humility is called for.

“First, responsibility must be clearly delineated between the various levels of power that have a stake in our educational system. What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision-making at the federal or state level. To me that means, we should set broad goals and have a good accountability system, leaving the real work to those closest to the students.

 “No system, however, works without accountability. In California we have detailed state standards and lots of tests. Unfortunately, the resulting data is not provided until after the school year is over. Even today, the ranking of schools based on tests taken in April and May of 2011 is not available. I believe it is time to reduce the number of tests and get the results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months. With timely data, principals and superintendents can better mentor and guide teachers as well as make sound evaluations of their performance. I also believe we need a qualitative system of assessments, such as a site visitation program where each classroom is visited, observed and evaluated. I will work with the State Board of Education to develop this proposal.

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