California AB 484, a popular bill among state officials, educators, and schools alike, marks a major step forward in the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). But it does thumb its nose at federal testing standards along the way, asserting California prerogative to chart its own educational path, even while adopting centralized standards.

Unfortunately, this bill has nothing to do with whether or not California will accept Common Core: the state has accepted it, and it is here to stay.  Rather, this bill merely irons out a few logistical wrinkles, including how best to transition from the old federal assessment instrument (the “STAR” test) to the new, Common-Core related one (“MAPP”).

The plan laid out in AB 484 allows for the 2013-2014 school year to be one of transition relative to the federal assessment requirements.  During this time, a field sample of students (rather than all students) would be tested using the new on-line Common Core-related federal assessment instrument called MAPP.

This new limited testing program flies in the face of mandates from the 2005 No Child Left Behind Act. To do this, California would need a federal waiver, but it’s not asking for one. The California legislature determined the federal test makes no sense in transitioning to new standards and determined to ignore it.

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, reportedly unhappy with the legislation, stated earlier this month, “Raising standards to better prepare students for college and careers is absolutely the right thing to do, but 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. No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing. If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state.”

Duncan is threatening to withhold some or all of the approximately $1.5 billion it receives each year in federal Title I funds, but California shows no signs of backing down.

Performing a field sample assessment makes far more sense for this school year in light of the fact that the testing method (on-line, as opposed to the STAR test’s traditional pen-and-paper method) and the test are, like the curriculum itself, brand new.  Considering the fact that not every school in California currently has enough computers to make universal online testing possible, it makes good practical and fiscal sense to do a limited trial run first. 

Additionally, it is also worth noting that the now-obsolete STAR test does not test upon the new Common Core curriculum content, so if California is stuck using the STAR test this year, it will be testing on curriculum that is no longer being taught.  Clearly, this would be an obvious waste of time, money, and effort for everyone involved…except for maybe the feds, who stand to lose the difference between a universally-applied-though-far-cheaper-per-student STAR testing and a smaller sample of the far-more-expensive-per-pupil MAPP test, whatever that works out to be.  Either way, it is taxpayer’s money, not theirs.

After several amendments, AB 484 passed in Assembly on September 11, 2013, and passed in Senate on September 10, 2013.  The bill was enrolled on September 16, 2013, and as of this writing (September 23, 2013), is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature.  Several sources report that Brown has indicated that he will support the measure.

California was an early supporter of the federal educational standards known as Common Core, adopting the standards even without receiving a dime of Obama’s Race to the Top grant money.  Whether or not AB 484 gets signed by Governor Brown—and it looks like it will, as several sources have reported his support of the measure—Common Core is here to stay.

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