The Year of the Asterisk? California's Testing Proposal Subverts Test-Based Accountability

September 18, 2013

CEPR Faculty Director Thomas Kane discusses California's use of Common-Core-aligned student assesssments in the following Brookings Institution paper. 

As states plan for new Common-Core-aligned student assessments in the spring of 2015, policymakers are struggling to transition their testing and accountability programs.  Last week, California legislators took an unprecedented step:  they voted to discontinue their old test and conduct a statewide field test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the spring of 2014.   More controversially, they will exclude many eligible students from the testing and withhold scores from school districts, teachers or parents.   This aspect of the plan has drawn warnings from the U.S. Department of Education, putting the state’s $1.5 billion in annual federal funding for Title I at risk.

It is understandable that Secretary Duncan would be eager to discourage such efforts.   There are many states in a similar position to California in that they are planning to participate in a field test with either the Smarter Balanced or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium in the spring.   If Secretary Duncan were to grant a waiver to California for its current plan, other states would be likely to follow suit.   Contrary to the perceptions of lawmakers and administrators in California, this is not simply a grudge match between the California Department of Education and Secretary Duncan (who have quarreled before).   On the contrary, this dispute has broader implications for test-based accountability nationwide.


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