January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

The Future of Science Assessments in California Is on Its Way to the Legislature

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

by Jessica Sawko

On January 8, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) Tom Torlakson released his long-awaited Recommendations Report for Transitioning to a Future Assessment System. This report was mandated by legislation (AB 250) and will be used to guide the state legislature in their deliberations as they embark on the process of reauthorizing and revamping California’s statewide assessment system. During its January 16 meeting, the State Board of Education (SBE) received a formal presentation of the report by CDE staff. It is important to note here that this presentation was an information item. The State Board of Education does not have a formal role to play at this point in the assessment discussion. The discussion around the statewide assessment system will take place this year in the state legislature. It has been reported that Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) will introduce the legislation.

The Recommendations Report includes 12 specific recommendations as well as several “considerations for future discussions” and “alternate approaches.” Overall, the report totals 174 pages. Within the recommendations, considerations, and alternate approaches are several items that relate to the assessment of science. First among these is Recommendation 1, which calls for the suspension of all assessment excepting those required for compliance with ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) or used in the EAP (Early Assessment Program) for the 2013 – 2014 school year. Corresponding changes to the calculation of API (Academic Performance Index) are also called for in the recommendation. In terms of science, this means no end of course exams for science at the high school level; only the CST/CMA/CAPA in science in grades five, eight, and ten would be offered. During the January SBE meeting, SSPI Torlakson reported, “we do feel in the press of budgets and time that it makes sense not to assess students in old standards. Save the money to get us going on developing the curriculum and assessment for science once the standards are adopted and have some additional funds that we can put back into professional development for bringing the assessment system online, the professional development, and focus on being successful in the spring of 2015.”

Recommendation 4 calls for the development and administration of science assessments aligned to the new science standards, once they are adopted. The recommendation calls for compliance with current federal ESEA requirements to test science in grades five, eight, and once in grades ten through twelve. The recommendation is non-specific in regards to other issues, including end of course exams and any role they may play in meeting ESEA requirements. The recommendation does call for science assessments to include item types “consistent with the SBAC [Smarter Balanced/Common Core] assessments (e.g. short and extended constructed-response items and performance tasks).” (Page 43)

Recommendation 5 calls for collaborating with other states to develop alternate assessments in ELA, math, and science for students with cognitive disabilities. The recommendation calls for the development of “new state science alternate assessments consistent with new science standards, once adopted by the SBE in the fall of 2013. Administer the new state science alternate assessments to all eligible students in grades five, eight, and once in grades ten through twelve, as required by ESEA” (page 43).

Recommendation 7 calls for the assessment of the full curriculum using assessments that model high-quality teaching and learning activities. To achieve this goal, the recommendation recommends a multi-year process involving consulting with stakeholders and subject matter experts to develop a plan for assessing beyond what is required by ESEA. The recommendation also includes addressing the issues and concerns around the amount of time students would spend taking tests and offers matrix sampling as a possible solution to the problem.

There are several other recommendations in the report that do not address science specifically, but where there may be room in the upcoming conversations to include science assessment in those recommendations.

In addition to the recommendations, Superintendent Torlakson offered several “alternate approaches for discussion.” One of these is an alternate approach to administering new science assessments:

Once new science assessments are developed, administer them to a state-defined sample of students in grades three through eleven for purposes of providing the state and LEAs with the necessary data to inform the public on academic achievement.

Provide schools and LEAs [Local Education Agency] with the option of administering the new state science assessment to students outside of the state-defined sample for local purposes. Additional information would be available for these voluntary samples at both the school level as well as the student level. If schools or LEAs were to administer assessments to a voluntary sample, they must cover the additional assessment costs, and the data from the voluntary sample will not be reported to the state. (Page 52)

In the summation, the SSPI recognizes that “testing every student in certain grade levels primarily in ELA [English/language arts] and mathematics […] may continue to narrow the curriculum and discourage broader instructional opportunities” (page 49). That is why his recommendations include exploring ways to assess other subjects in a way that would encourage the teaching of the full curriculum to all students.

As recognized during the January SBE meeting, there are a lot of moving parts right now. In response to State Board Member Ilene Strauss’ concerns about this, Deb Sigman (Deputy Superintendent, District, School, and Innovation Branch, California Department of Education) said, “I don’t know if ever before we have had to deal with so many different things all at once.” In addition to the assessment discussions that will be taking place in the legislature, the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA) Advisory Committee is busy working in implementing SB 1458 which calls for no more than 60% of the API to consist of standardized test scores. During its November 2012 meeting, one of the components the PSAA Advisory committee discussed adding to the API is a college and career readiness indicator. During the course of the discussion the possibility of adding science assessments and the completion of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and/or CTE (Career Technical Education) Pathway programs to the indicator was floated. This conversation was the first of many and will continue in on February 12.

It is only with your help and support that CSTA will be able to participate in both processes. Maintaining your membership, or joining today, will go a long way in insuring that the voice of the science educator is represented during all of these discussions, and make sure that you stay informed an up-to-date on all of these important issues.

Jessica L. Sawko is the executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

One Response

  1. […] regarding assessment. AB 484 (Bonilla) seeks to implement one of Superintendent Torlakson’s assessment recommendations to suspend all non-federally required and non-EAP STAR assessments for the 2013-2014 school year. […]

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