ED Grants California Testing Reprieve

Under the headline “In Standoff With California Over Testing, Education Department Blinks,” the Washington Post (3/7, Layton) reports that ED “is allowing California to bypass federal requirements” and refrain from reporting on the results of math and English tests and from “using them to hold schools or teachers accountable.” The Post notes that the “reprieve” ends the months-long impasse between ED and the state, in which Education Secretary Arne Duncan “threatened to withhold at least $3.5 billion” in Title I funding. The article reports that Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle sent a letter to the state on Friday saying that “her department has approved the state’s plan,” quoting her writing, “I hope you find this flexibility helpful.” The Post explains that California’s dilemma came as a result of having adopted the Common Core Standards, with which the state’s old assessments were not aligned. Common Core-aligned tests “will not be ready until 2015,” and California officials have opted to use Common Core field tests instead of “dusting off” the old tests.

        The AP (3/10, Johnston) reports that ED’s flexibility “exempts California schools from some No Child Left Behind testing and reporting rules in 2013-14,” allowing them to field test the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Under the terms of the waiver, schools that use the field test will “carry over” their AYP scores from the previous year. The AP quotes Superintendent Tom Torlakson and Board of Education President Michael Kirst saying in a statement, “Approval of this waiver could not have come at a better time. In little more than a week, some 3 million students will begin the largest field test of these new assessments of any state in the nation.” The AP notes that Duncan last September “publicly chastised California,” and that Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle warned “that California could be labeled a ‘high-risk guarantee’, or could lose $15 million in Title 1 money and $3.5 billion from federal programs.” The AP quotes Duncan writing in September, “A request from California to not measure the achievement of millions of students this year is not something we could approve in good conscience.”

        Southern California Public Radio (3/7) also covers this story online, calling the move “an about face” for ED, noting that in September, Duncan “threatened to withhold as much as $3 billion in federal education funding, saying the state’s plan to limit testing and keep results secret violated federal law.” EdSource Today (3/10, Fensterwald) also covers this story.