Senate version of school funding restructuring moves to Assembly

Legislative action Thursday clears the way for California schools to begin statewide student testing based on the new common core curriculum beginning in the spring of 2015.

The move comes in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown's revised May budget proposal to set aside $1 billion next year to help local school boards buy new instructional materials, provide new training for teachers and fill technology needs in order to support and implement the new common core standards.

Those standards, which have been embraced by 45 other states, were actually adopted in California almost three years ago - but until now there was no money to help districts make the transition.

Thursday, however, the state Assembly approved AB 1186 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, that will provide distribution of the $1 billion in common core money to districts based on average daily attendance.

Perhaps more important, however, was agreement in the state Senate to support the 2014-15 school year as the start for new student testing on common core curriculum.

It is time that we stop testing students using antiquated fill in the bubble' forms, and begin to align our assessment methods with standards that will better prepare students for college and careers," Bonilla said in a statement Thursday.

Her bill, AB 484, which also won passage out of the state Assembly on Thursday, would suspend the current Standardized Testing and Reporting program - or STAR - as of July, 2013.

In its place, beginning in 2014-15, would be computer-based assessments aligned with the common core standards.

Rival legislation from state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada-Flintridge, would have extended the STAR testing until at least 2016 - giving schools more time to make the transition.

But with the governor's commitment of substantial one-time money to help with the transition, opposition to the early start date has largely fallen away.

This week, the state Senate passed a new version of the Liu bill that no longer included any reference to the sunset of the STAR.

The amended version of SB 247 continues to call for the termination of standardized testing for second graders.

That version is now pending in the state Assembly.

As a result, Bonilla's 484 becomes the only legislative vehicle for moving the state from the STAR tests to the new computer-based assessments.

The new tests are being developed by a consortium of states - the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, of which California is one of the leaders. Pilot testing of the assessment has already begun both here and in other member states.

The Bonilla bill still faces some political challenge. Key statewide education groups have voiced concern that AB 484 would suspend all assessments except those required for federal accountability purposes or used for the Early Assessment Program.

Some critics have said such a suspension would result in major gaps in knowledge about student performance, including the progress of students in early elementary grades, students learning English, students with disabilities and high school students.

The new testing system would be known as California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress for the 21st Century, or CalMAPP21.

If adopted, testing in the second grade would be eliminated as well as testing now administrated to newly-arrived Spanish-speaking students.

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