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.