California aims to revamp how it assesses student learning 

click to enlarge “Our goal is to place emphasis on career readiness, and parents across the state will be pleased to see a system that gets students ready for jobs out there in the new economy or so they can go on to higher education.” — Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction - COURTESY PHOTO
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  • “Our goal is to place emphasis on career readiness, and parents across the state will be pleased to see a system that gets students ready for jobs out there in the new economy or so they can go on to higher education.” — Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

California school officials want to move away from multiple-choice testing and into a format that better rewards critical thinking and problem solving.

The digitally based assessment would not be ready until the 2013-14 school year, but state education officials are in the process of creating it and prepping districts and teachers for the switch.

“We want to increase richness and depth, but decrease the amount of testing that’s going on,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “Our goal is to place emphasis on career readiness, and parents across the state will be pleased to see a system that gets students ready for jobs out there in the new economy or so they can go on to higher education.”

The 12 recommendations unveiled Tuesday will be sent to the Legislature, which must approve the changes. The current Standardized Testing and Reporting model expires in July 2014.

The cost for the changes and investment in new technology was not immediately known, but Torlakson estimated that it could reach $1 billion.

The changes also would align with the Common Core Standards, which were adopted in June 2010 and require students to think critically, solve problems and show an in-depth knowledge of a subject.

Additionally, the new standards would replace written tests with computer-based tests.

Torlakson said the goal is to give teachers, parents and students more immediate results to more quickly address student and teacher needs.

“The evolution of technology enables us to have this kind of assessment system,” he said. “Right now, teachers aren’t getting results until students have gone on to another grade.”

Creating new science standards, fully implementing English and math standards, and considering an alternative to the California High School Exit Exam also were in the recommendations.

In order to develop the new standards and tests, educators are recommending suspension of any exams that are not federally required. The California Standards Tests, California Modified Assessments and California Alternate Performance Assessments in English and math in third through eighth grades will continue, as will some science exams in the fifth, eighth and 10th grades.But second-grade assessments and high school end-of-course tests will be suspended.

The Early Assessment Program, which helps high school students know if they are ready for college, also will continue.

Deb Sigman, a deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education, said officials need time to create “assessments that will get at deeper learning.” She said the history assessment could go from a multiple-choice test to an essay exam.

In San Francisco, the school district is “eager” to implement the new assessments, but noted that training 3,000 teachers and preparing more than 100 schools for the changes will be challenging, said spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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