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California Secures Testing Waiver, Implements Field Tests in Lieu of CSTs

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For the many Californian students who have been accustomed to the annual California State Tests (CST), this year marks a transition with the elimination of state tests in favor of common-core-aligned field tests.

“We appreciate the Obama Administration’s approval of this important request, which will allow far more California students to get a hands-on experience with the new 21st century assessments that will help guide them as they gain the skills they need to succeed in the real world of careers and college,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, according to a released statement.

According to the Washington Post, California joins Idaho and Montana as the third state to receive a test waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (DoE), allowing them to give field tests to all schools within their state. These waivers allow flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to annually test students in grades three to eight and once more in high school.

“Though there should be some kind of test to provide students with a goal to meet, I never thought the CST really determined my abilities,” senior Oscar Menjivar said. “I thought of the test as something where there was a 25 percent chance of getting the right answer.”

The waivers originated last year from the DoE that offered states the option of foregoing double-testing students with both field tests and the regular state exams, as stated by Education Week. With the passing of Common Core, state tests needed to be changed in order to adjust to the new testing standards. However, common-core-aligned state tests will not be ready until spring of 2015, thus creating a dilemma for states: should they continue testing students on old standards?

Furthermore, according to Education Week, because field tests are experimental by design, incorporating sample questions from the developing common-core-aligned state tests, they are not expected to accurately measure student achievement. Thus, participating schools are not expected to receive scores from this year’s SBAC. In addition, the waiver allows participating schools to refrain from reporting any data to teachers, administrators and parents on student progress.
This year serves as a transitional period where educators are still being trained to make lesson plans that teach students how to think critically before Common Core is officially implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

“The SBAC helped train teachers to adapt to the new Common Core digitized testing. State officials are able to receive feedback from us regarding what [works]and what does not, such as whether or not our technology can handle the tests,” Assistant Principal of Guidance Carol Young said. “For [high school students], we expect that the new Common Core tests will be easier for students as they progress through the Common Core curriculum.”

This raises large concerns from accountability proponents who argue that this one-year delay will affect students’ growth trend lines that have accumulated years of data which track performance progress.

However, others assert that the one year gap would not harm students.

“In any state, including California, that receives this flexibility, there will be no lessening of support for struggling students,” DoE spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said, according to the Washington Post.

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