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Wine and Cheese: California, Wisconsin Consider Testing’s Place in Accountability

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 12, 2015 3 min read
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Crossposted from State Ed Watch.

These state developments are worth checking out for you waiver watchers out there, since they could eventually have implications for No Child Left Behind implementation.


As states roll out new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, they’re also considering how to use, or how not to use, those test results to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable, at least for this school year. Let’s look at a few examples.

New Tests, Old Accountability Model

In California, the state school board is slated to vote March 11 on whether to consider student scores from the Smarter Balanced tests, which are aligned to the common core, for state accountability purposes for the 2014-15 school year. The state’s Academic Performance Index (API) has traditionally incorporated such results from standardized tests into schools’ performance on the API, and the API is used in turn to determine which schools require improvement.

Board Chairman Mike Kirst told the Associated Press that even if the state board ultimately decides not to use the Smarter Balanced results in the API, the scores will still be reported to the public at the school, district, and state level.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the state is moving away from the API, in order to create a new school accountability system that incorporates a greater variety of measures beyond test scores. As I wrote about last August, under a California law approved in 2012, state officials are required to approve a new accountability system this year. The law put some requirements on this new accountability model, but left other questions up to the state board.

When I traveled to California late last year to cover the state superintendent’s election, Kirst told me that he’s particularly interested in the system promoted by Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at the graduate school of education at Stanford University, and two other authors in a report released last year. John Fensterwald at EdSource also wrote about the state board’s deliberations over a new accountability system at the start of this month.

UPDATE: The California state school board agreed to suspend the API for this school year, Fensterwald reported March 11.

Keep something else in mind: The state is seeking a No Child Left Behind waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, in order to get a one-year reprieve from using Smarter Balanced test scores for federal accountability purposes. That’s separate from the state accountability discussions slated to take place March 11.

A Popular ‘Pause’

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, lawmakers could fast-track K-12 accountability legislation that would create a one-year “pause” in the use of the Smarter Balanced test scores for school and teacher accountability.

Both the Senate and Assembly education committees are moving quickly to approve the plan that would prevent Smarter Balanced from being used in school ratings and teacher evaluations until the 2015-16 year. The plan has relatively broad support outside the legislature as well.

However, that’s not the only notable bill dealing with testing in Wisconsin, as Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. A separate bill, which some claim is being moved ahead too quickly by the Republican-controlled legislature, would also require the state to approve three assessments aside from Smarter Balanced that schools could give to students for accountability purposes.

I wrote about this latter proposal in Wisconsin earlier this year, and it could present pretty thorny problems for accountability in Wisconsin. The same bill could also dramatically expand the footprint of charter schools in the state, and split how traditional public, charter, and private schools are held accountable by the state.

Students Get a Break

Finally, in Ohio, lawmakers have approved legislation that would make it so students’ performance on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exams in English/language arts and math (which are aligned to the common core) would not prevent them from being promoted in the 2014-15 school year. The same “safe harbor” provision would also apply to decisions about course credit.

The legislation is headed to Republican Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

There’s one exception in the bill, however: The safe harbor provision wouldn’t apply to the state’s 3rd grade reading law, which requires students to demonstrate literacy by the end of the 3rd grade.