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L.A. schools chief says test cuts could hurt at-risk students

January 14, 2013 |  4:47 pm

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has raised concerns to the state's top education official about his recent proposal that would reduce the number of standardized tests that students must take next year.

In a letter to state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Deasy wrote that he was disappointed that neither L.A. Unified nor any other large, urban school district was consulted in the development of the proposal.

Under the plan, put forward last week by Torlakson, second-graders would not be tested in math and English next year and most high school tests would also be dropped as California moves to a new testing system.

If lawmakers approve the plan, schools would be evaluated on a narrower range of test data for one year before the new system is put in place.

Deasy, who expressed concerns last week as well, wrote that he supports the reduction of some testing to help districts ease the transition from the current generation of tests to the next. But he contends that the proposal in its current form would complicate efforts to track student performance in the district’s “most at-risk populations,” as well as the district’s efforts to track teacher performance.

“It’s inexcusable that the concerns of such a vital constituency were not addressed in the planning of this critical initiative,” he wrote.

The suspension of tests for second-graders would make it harder to identify students who need help as part of the district's push to get all students proficient in math and English by third grade. And officials would have trouble measuring progress in high schools because of the disruption, Deasy said.

The district's proposed teacher evaluation system also relies on data that would not be collected next year.

Eliminating the tests would also complicate calculations for the state's Academic Performance Index, the state's primary measure for schools. Index ratings are based on test scores. The current state tests are also part of a federally approved L.A. Unified plan to improve the performance of students who are learning English. To stay in compliance, L.A. Unified might have to find and purchase other tests for about 40,000 students, officials said.

In an email, Torlakson's spokesman said the superintendent "is pleased that –- two full years into this process -– Los Angeles Unified has now joined the nearly 2,000 other districts, administrators, teachers, parents and others who have provided input as we prepare for the future of student testing in California."

And the statement said Torlakson would give Deasy's concerns "due consideration."

The current generation of tests is set to end entirely after the 2013-14 school year.

The state would still test for English and math in grades 3 through 8 and for science in grades 5, 8 and 10, as required by the federal government. The high school exit exam, mandatory for graduation in California, would also remain in place.

The current tests have "proven to be a very powerful tool" for improving learning, Torlakson said last week, but "we need to move ... to a new assessment."

Future standardized tests will be administered on computers, and contents will be tailored to the student's skill level, officials say. The goal is a deeper and more precise measure of a what a student knows.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

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