Legislation swaps older STAR tests for modern assessments aligned with Common Core

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that will replace the state’s older standardized testing system with more modern, computer-based assessments aligned with the new Common Core instructional standards.

Authored by Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla, D-Concord, the bill that was signed into law on Oct. 2 suspends most Standardized Testing and Reporting exams for the current school year, meaning IUSD students won’t take California Standards Tests in the spring. (More on that in a moment.) That will enable school districts to begin transitioning to the new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress — or MAPP — assessments, which are slated to be administered during the 2014-15 school year.

“We are very pleased that the state has moved forward with new assessments that truly reflect the meaningful instruction that’s already taking place with the Common Core standards,” said Cassie Parham, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of education services. “These new standards take learning substantially deeper and align with our district’s own Continuous Improvement Efforts, and it’s critical that we not waste any more time with antiquated assessments.”

The new exams, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, will feature computer-adaptive technology that can adjust questions based on previous right or wrong answers, providing much more precise feedback to indicate which skills and content areas have been mastered. Like the Common Core itself, the assessments will focus more on critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving.

“These are radically different tests and we will certainly need to build our technology infrastructure so that our students can learn to navigate this new environment,” IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker said. “Moving forward, the success of our students with Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessments will depend on quality teaching as well as a strong technological backbone.”

Again, the new assessments won’t be rolled out until 2015, and the old standards tests will be shelved this year. But that doesn’t mean accountability and instructional data-gathering are on hold.

Parham said IUSD plans to work with leaders at each school to identify objective assessments for the current year that will help determine student placement in programs and courses. These will also emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving, she said.

“With the suspension of STAR testing, every school district in California now has an opportunity to engage more deeply with the Common Core State Standards,” she added.

IUSD educators weren’t the only ones praising the transition to more modern assessments.

“Faced with the choice of preparing California’s children for the future or continuing to cling to outdated policies of the past, our state’s leaders worked together and made the right choice for our students,” Tom Torlakson, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said. “These new assessments represent a challenge for our education system — but a lifetime of opportunity for students. As a teacher, I’m thrilled to see our state and our schools once again leading the way.”

So what will the new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) program look like when its unveiled next year? Here’s a breakdown of the tests, courtesy of Parham:

  • Computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessments in English-language arts and math for grades three through eight and 11 (These will be administered as field tests for the 2013-14 school year.)
  • Science assessments in grades five, eight and 10 (Current science assessments will continue to be used until replacement assessments are developed.)
  • The California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA) for grades two through 11 in ELA and math, and grades five, eight and 10 in science.
  • The Early Assessment Program (EAP) (For the 2013-14 school year, this will continue to be the 11th grade CST and augmented CST, which will continue to be voluntary for eligible 11th-graders. Assembly Bill 484 specifies that, beginning in 2014-15, the existing EAP may be replaced by the 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessment.)
  • The Primary Language Assessment (PLA) (Aligned to the old content standards, this can be administered by districts for English Learners and reclassified English Learners who are enrolled in dual immersion programs. AB 484 also requires the state superintendent to develop — and the state Board of Education to adopt — a new Common Core-aligned PLA no later than the 2016-17 school year, but that provision only applies if the Legislature appropriates funding for it in a future budget or bill.)