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Educators laud Brown plan to trim tests

By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County educators on Wednesday greeted Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for less student testing and quicker results on the remaining tests as a bit of good news for schools that are awash in financial worry.

In his annual State of the State speech from Sacramento on Wednesday, Brown said students are asked to take too many tests, and teachers learn little from them because results are not readily available.

“I believe it is time to reduce the number of tests and get the results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months,” he said. “With timely data, principals and superintendents can better mentor and guide teachers as well as make sound evaluations of their performance.”

That’s good news, local educators agreed.

“I think you are going to hear applause from every corner on that one,” said Karen Salvaggio, interim superintendent of Wright School District.

The current drumbeat of testing wears on teachers and students, she said.

“It almost crescendoes over the top of instruction. You are so worried about what assessment comes next,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want testing, we need to know how we are doing.”

Salvaggio said reducing tests and test-preparation time does not mean schools and teachers will lose sight of tracking student learning.

“We have to demonstrate that we are closing the achievement gap, that we are reaching all students,” Salvaggio said. “You still have to address those kids because your accountability system is going to demand that of you.”

Andy Brennan, a high school teacher and president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, cheered Brown’s proposal to get state test results to schools in time to make them matter to the students themselves.

“We don’t get test scores back until July so it’s too late to really do much with it,” he said. “Those kids are gone already, then you are comparing the scores of those kids to the next class of kids who are completely different and it’s limited in value.”

Getting scores back to school sites sooner could allow teachers to include the results in grades. Educators have long complained that teachers, schools and districts are held to account for how students perform when the students themselves have no vested interest in scoring well on standardized tests.

Now is the time to tinker with how students are tested in California, Brennan said, noting the current effort to implement national core academic standards and determine how those new sets of skills will be tested.

“I see this as the perfect time,” he said.

On the financial front, Sonoma Valley Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese said he’s concerned about Brown’s proposal to eliminate categories of state funding and simply let local school districts set spending priorities.

It sounds good, Frese said, but some districts such as Sonoma could lose funding.

“We used to get a separate check for (specific programs). Now we might not get anything,” he said. “Depending on how they repackage them, it may or may not be good for school districts.”

Despite Brown’s continued endorsement of placing a school sales tax measure on the November ballot, local finance officers are being advised by state officials to build their 2012-13 budgets as if those taxes will not succeed.

Statewide, the cuts to education could amount to $4.8 billion if the tax measure fails.

“It’s just an incredible amount of money,” Frese said of potential cuts to Sonoma Valley. “We can’t afford to get a call in December, three months into (staff) contracts that says: ‘Sorry, the check isn’t coming.’­”

Staff writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.





13 Responses to “Educators laud Brown plan to trim tests”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Reality checks-it’s not the same kind of tests. These tests mean money for the school so they want children to be able to get high scores. THIS IS AT THE EXPENSE OF LEARNING HOW TO LEARN. Other subjects’ time is cut or CUT OUT and these subjects are just as important as reading and arithmetic.

  2. Commonsense says:

    Both ideas are a good start. Testing is a good idea, but should be focused on the class by the teacher, not mandated by the State for financial funding purposes. Getting the State less involved in funding is also a good idea, and may actually have the affect of a need to clean house and organize districts more efficiently, thus creating a system where the vast bulk of the money spent is on the students/classes and not the administrators.

  3. Downloaded says:

    Now that Brown has solved the education gap he can get on to the next non-issue, the budget is balanced and has a surplus.

  4. Steveguy says:

    RC. You have valid points. I see this whole mess as some ‘do-gooder’ get the next new better textbook out that does nothing but make money for the textbook people.

    K-3 can learn how my Grandmother learned, or my Mother or Father. Or even me.

    Basic reading and math have turned into some kind of unrealistic justify someone’s job grant money pit at the expense of the students.

    I would like to see a school that uses 1930′s reading, writing and math like my parents did.

    As for tests, the old Iowa Basic Skills Test worked fine, yet we have abandoned the C and D students that be way smarter than either of us in a hands on mechanical or otherwise field of work. We all know very talented and smart people that didn’t get good grades. The foundation of the ability to learn on your own can be stifled with tests that have no meaning.

  5. Reality Check says:

    Steveguy,

    Point taken. But if the test is a good one and measures what a teacher wants students to learn, then having the teacher teach to it, or students study for it, doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.

    I was tweaking a slogan that’s too often is accepted at face value.

    The problem, it seems to me, is that too many layers of government have intruded themselves into the classroom. Teachers have lost the ability to adjust to the particular needs of a class.

  6. joe right says:

    So now what will be used as a measure of performance?

  7. Steveguy says:

    @Reality Check- Teaching by rote can turn out mechanical engineers that can’t change a doorknob. Some subjects like times tables and State Capitols need a rote teaching method. I think what some are saying is that teaching to learn is better than all rote teaching.

    Richard Feynman has a great piece on the ‘rote’ method concerning Brazilian Physics students taught by rote. They could do the math for reflection of light, but couldn’t relate that to simple reflections like the sun reflecting off of water. Or have the curiosity to learn more. Just making grades. Like memorizing State capitols without even seeing a map. wealtar sing

  8. Reality Check says:

    The line that teachers are burdened when they must spend time “teaching to the test” sounds good. But I sure remember as a student spending my time “studying for the test.” Why is one bad while the other isn’t?

  9. mockingbird says:

    If teachers spend their classroom time teaching to tests so they can bring down money, they aren’t teaching children critical thinking and problem solving skills. The children aren’t getting a well rounded education that will make them competent thinking adults. It takes time from other important subjects like social studies, geography, science, literature, art, music, PE, history and political science when your teaching them to pass tests.
    Brown knows his education stuff. It’s something he believes strongly in. When we refuse to pass the increase in taxes, when the Republicans expect nothing but cuts and have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge for no more taxes, Brown is between a rock and a hard place. We’re saying we don’t care about education so cut those kids and let the rich keep their tax breaks. Like not having to pay tax on their yacht purchases and the oil industry not have to pay an extraction tax in this state when all other oil producing states (INCLUDING TEXAS) charges an extraction tax.

  10. Its Our Constitution says:

    If you can’t teach them, you shouldn’t have to test them. That is the teachers attitude. Why should they be held responsible by some tests for their failure to teach?

    If you don’t believe this, check the academic scores of California students with those from other states.

  11. Reality Check says:

    Given the multiple layers of government that fund and oversee our schools, multiple layers of testing and rules should not surprise anyone.

    The tests resulted from demands for accountability, which came about because earlier tests indicated poor performance. It is just like government to swing the pendulum from end to the other. But it is also unreasonable to expect any level of govt to fund another without some measure of how its money is being used.

    Local schools want more money from Sacramento and Washington, and they also want autonomy. They sound like a typical teenager.

  12. Jim says:

    Mandated testing is a joke anyway. I know an average student in a public Sonoma County high school who passed the “exit exam” as a Sophomore. How can an high school “exit exam” be passable by someone who hasn’t even finished their second year in high school?

    Answer…because the test is setup to be so easy that everyone passes. It is a joke.

  13. Pamela Collman says:

    Excellent first step toward improving our public schools in California!!!!!