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For better or worse, California goes its own way on education, rejecting test- and results-driven models

For better or worse, California goes its own way on education, rejecting test- and results-driven models
Eric Schulzke, Deseret News

In the second go around for California Gov. Jerry Brown, the state’s education policy has bucked the national trend toward using standardized testing to evaluate schools and teachers, writes Matt Barnum at The 74, a nonprofit education news site.

“If Washington, D.C., went to one extreme,” Barnum writes, “in focusing on test-driven accountability policies, as some argue, California has gone to the other: placing a lengthy pause on school accountability, devolving control to local districts, eliminating certain data systems and declining to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.”

Instead of state-level control, the nation’s most populous state has pushed local control with more equal funding. In 2013, the state revamped its school funding law so that it now provides 60 percent of funding statewide, but that funding is targeted based on poverty, English language learning needs and disabilities, NPR reported when the legislation passed.

The legislation also provided for local control over goals and accountability with local priorities and solutions being set by parents, local school boards and teachers.

Three years later, at the very least, there seems to be far less friction and frustration among teachers and parents.

Getting administrators off the backs of local school districts and teachers has been a key objective for teacher unions over the past two years, as voiced by National Education Association President Lilly Eskelsen Garcia in an interview with the Deseret News last year.

“While New York, for instance, has seen opposition from teachers and high testing opt-out rates, California has experienced virtually no opt-out movement and solid support from teachers for Common Core,” Barnum writes. “Hitting pause on school and teacher accountability likely had something to do with that.”

In bucking the trend on top-down accountability, however, California does run the risk of pushback based on test scores. The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress test scores, for example, showed that California does poorly, even when the scores are controlled for poverty and other demographics. Florida and Texas, meanwhile, do significantly better students of all demographic groups.

The NAEP scores are standardized tests administered to samples of students in every state and are not used to evaluate the progress of any student or the performance of any given school.

To be fair, California’s key financing and education reforms only passed in 2013, so the jury must still be seen as deliberating even on the test scores.

Email: eschulzke@deseretnews.com

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