Calif. Lawmakers, Governor Agree on Test Program
California lawmakers and Gov. Pete Wilson last week headed toward agreement on legislation to resuscitate and revamp their state's assessment program.
The program, killed by former Gov. George Deukmejian in a budget-cutting move last year, has received national acclaim for its pioneering experiments with performance assessments.
The negotiations last week resolved differences between lawmakers, led by the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Gary K. Hart, who urged that the revamped program include a greater reliance on performance assessments. Such measures require students to construct answers, rather than fill in blanks on an answer sheet.
Governor Wilson, on the other hand, insisted that the assessment program test every student at every grade level. But some legislators argued that condition would make use of the more costly alternative assessments unlikely. The budget for the next fiscal year includes $10 million for the assessment program.
"It's burdensome on pupils to test every year, and it's expensive," said Susan Burr, a consultant to the Senate education panel.
The compromise reached last week calls for the program to make substantial use of performance assessments, while also providing scores for every student. But rather than create an annual state test, officials would devise a way to compare scores on district-level tests in the years state tests are not administered.
Under such a system, "a student's score in Stockton and a student's score in Bakersfield are going to mean the same thing," said Amy Albright, a spokesman for Governor Wilson's department of child development and education.
The legislation, which has passed the Senate in a somewhat different form and was scheduled for floor action in the Assembly late last week, was modeled after recommendations of a panel named by Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig to recommend ways to design a revived assessment program.
That panel, chaired by Thomas W. Payzant, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, called for increasing the use of alternative measures of student performance, adding additional subjects to the state tests, and changing the grades in which students are tested.
The bill as worked out last week would phase in the use of alternative assessments over five years. Although first-year funding for the program would be about $10 million, funding would rise to $35 million at the end of five years, according to Ms. Burr.
The bill also calls for statewide tests in half the subjects in grade 4 and the other half in grade 5, and in all subjects in grades 8 and 10, rather than testing students in grades 3, 6, 8, and 12, as in the previous program.
Ms. Burr explained that the new schedule would allow only one testing period in elementary, middle, and high school.
"We wanted to reduce the number of times kids are tested," she said.
At Mr. Wilson's urging, the bill also would provide scores for individual students.
"Our concern," said Ms. Albright, "is that the assessment program provide parents information about their child, rather than a general picture of how their class is doing."
The legislation also provides that the assessments be based on the state's curricular frameworks. Dale Carlson, director of the program, said state officials would work with test publishers to ensure that the tests administered in the intervening grades also focus on the frameworks.
Mr. Carlson noted that the state in June awarded $965,000 to two consortia of districts to develop performance-based assessments. The consortium based in San Diego and the other based in northern California-will develop, field test, and disseminate to other districts new assessments to replace traditional multiple-choice tests.
"The California Assessment Program will never, obviously, meet all the needs of teachers day-to-day," said Mr. Carlson. "This is making a small dent in their profound need. We'll be working with them as we revamp and redevelop cap."
Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 15Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Calif. Lawmakers, Governor Agree on Test Program