David Mendez

RBUSD wary of standardized test bill

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by David Mendez

The Redondo Beach Unified School Board is taking a “wait and see” approach to a proposed state law that would allow school districts to individually decide what standardized tests would be used to assess high school student progress.

Assembly Bill 1951, known as the Pathways to College Act, was submitted in late January by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, representing San Pedro and Long Beach.

According to O’Donnell, the bill would “level the playing field” by giving school districts the option of using standardized college admissions tests, such as the ACT and SAT, as high school assessments. Their use would be in lieu of the existing Smarter Balanced test that’s already in place throughout the state.

Other states, including Connecticut, Illinois and Michigan, have already won approval from the U.S. Department of Education to use the SAT for federal testing purposes.

A fact sheet offered by O’Donnell’s office tout “free, personalized test practice” for SAT and ACT prep that’s available to students and families regardless of background or income level.

Proponents believe that the plan would relieve students from “duplicative testing” and would give districts greater “local control.”

“It’s rare that a standardized assessment actually helps students,” Nancy Albarran, Superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District, said in a press release. “A win for students, a win for schools, and a win for local control.”

Redondo’s board was more wary. Their conversation was spurred by requests by the California School Board Association to “take a stand,” but none of the five board members could find a reason to do so, as of yet.

For one thing, they said, the State Superintendent of Schools has yet to weigh in on the bill. For another, though the bill does address accommodations for “students with exceptional needs,” RBUSD Board Member Anita Avrick feels the bill is too ambiguous as to how its changes will support special needs students.

“Until that’s sorted out, there’s no way to know if our special needs kids will be taken care of,” Avrick said.

RBUSD Deputy Superintendent Annette Alpern agreed.

“While the SAT and the ACT have accommodations, they’re not close to being as exhaustive as the Smarter Balanced test is,” Alpern said. “They don’t have the breadth or depth of accommodations that currently exist.”

The school district is also concerned that changing from the Smarter Balanced test, which began rolling out in 2015, would “undermine commitment” to kindergarten through 12th grade teaching continuity. The Smarter Balanced test is administered to students in elementary grades 3-5, middle school grades 7 and 8, and high school grade 11.

“We haven’t even really been able to see what the impact is of how [testing standards] are affecting those cohorts,” Alpern said of tracking student development over time. “We’re getting to a place to use that 11th grade report to do some comparative analysis, but right now it’s just been a snapshot of 11th grade.”

“High schools in California have invested time, planning, and professional development to make sure state content standards are taught and assessed throughout a student’s high school years,” Alpern said. “It took years to develop a cohesive, standards-based instruction and assessment model in California.”

The RBUSD school board did not take action after discussing the AB 1951 at its Feb. 27 meeting.

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