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Calif. Senate Approves Dropping Standardized Tests

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would end traditional standardized testing of students in reading, math and social science, as the top federal education official threatened to withhold federal funds if the measure becomes law.

California schools have used the STAR tests to measure student learning and school performance since 1999.

But AB494 would replace the multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper tests next spring with new language and math tests designed to follow the Common Core curriculum standards. Students would use computers to take the new tests.

The measure passed, 25-7, and returns to the Assembly for a final vote.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan objected that the abrupt shift would leave the state without test scores for a year while it adopts the new system.

State education officials back the shift to more rigorous tests, but some senators had concerns.

Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Escondido, said the state can't afford to lose federal funds, nor a lost year when test results would not be tabulated.

The bill "guts our testing system," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

The tests are a product of the national Common Core curriculum standards that have been adopted by 45 states. Supporters of the rapid shift to the new tests say it would help teachers and students adapt to new lessons and materials.

"We're talking about a one-year transition program, not about backing away from accountability in any way," Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, said.

The proposal requires a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education if the state is to avoid losing federal funds.

"Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools' performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition," Duncan said in a statement.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said after the vote that he looks forward to making the state's case to the federal government.

"We're doing what's best for kids, not what Washington thinks is best for California," he said.

California has been giving the old tests to students in grades 2-11 since 1999. Under the bill by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders would take only the science portion of the test next spring before it is dropped altogether a year later.

Students would take either the English language arts or math part of the new Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress tests next spring and the entire test a year later. However, the state would not keep track of individual student scores, school performance reports or statewide results until 2015.

"There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what's taught in the classroom," Jim Evans, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said in an email indicating that the governor supports the pending legislation.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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