U.S. Threatens to Withhold Billions over California Student Testing

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The federal government upped the ante last week in its battle with California over student testing when it obliquely threatened to kill $3.5 billion in assistance to the state.

The state is switching from using the STAR standardized tests to Common Core and doesn’t want to continue STAR testing during the transition. The U.S. Department of Education considers it mandatory that students are tested annually and ties a range of education subsidies to it.

The state and the feds were in a war of words for months leading up to passage of Assembly Bill 484 by the Legislature and its signing by Governor Jerry Brown on October 2. The bill codifies the switch to the new Common Core, whose standards have already been adopted by 45 states. But the law stipulates that there will be no student or school test scores released in 2014 and perhaps, not in 2015 either.

That triggered a letter from U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah S. Delisle, who wagged a finger at the state and said it “risks significant enforcement action” for its decision and urged it to reverse course. Otherwise, a host of financial assistance that adds up to $3.52 billion, or about 10% of the state’s education funding, would be jeopardized.

The San Jose Mercury News got a look at the list of potential funding sequestrations and said the big one was $1.2 billion for special education under the Disabilities Education Act.

Other endangered funding sources include: $265.7 million for professional development and support for educators; $155.8 million for language acquisition for English learners; $133.5 million for migrant education; $65.6 million for low-performing schools; and $1.3 million for rural and low-income schools.

The federal government argues that failure to test student for a year or two deprives educators and parent of a valuable tool for assessing students. The state argues that STAR testing would interfere with its rollout of the new Common Core testing and student education in general by consuming valuable time administering a test it doesn’t value highly and won’t be using in the immediate future.

The state would essentially be doing double-testing as it fine-tuned the Common Core for its prime-time debut. Federal law requires that students be tested in science at three grade levels, and in mathematics and English in grades three through eight and once in high school.

The federal government has no problem with the Common Core standards themselves. They set goals for reading, writing and math skills that students should develop from kindergarten through high school graduation that were embraced by the Obama administration. Each state will conjure up its own classroom curriculum, but, in general, the standards emphasize critical thinking and problem solving while encouraging deep thought about fewer topics.

Common Core, itself, has not been without controversy. Some critics aren’t enamored with standardized testing in any form, cost estimates have ranged higher than some people are comfortable with, teachers are concerned that they won’t be properly trained in the curriculum, and Tea Party types are worried that “Obamacore” will destroy the country as fast as Obamacare.

–Ken Broder    


To Learn More:

U.S. Threatens to Take $3.52 Billion from California Schools in Testing Dispute (by Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News)

State Senate Approves Student Testing Plan over Federal Objections (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

Turmoil Swirling around Common Core Education Standards (by Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post)

Bipartisan U.S. Education Overhaul Fires up Emboldened Tea Party (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

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