From L.A. Times by Howard Blume:
In a major shift in how California's 6.2 million public school students are taught and tested, state officials plan to drop the standardized exams used since 1999 and replace them with a computerized system next spring.

The move would advance new learning goals, called the Common Core, which are less focused on memorizing facts. They are designed instead to develop critical thinking and writing skills that take formerly separate subjects such as English and history or writing and chemistry and link them. Forty-five states have adopted these standards.

California is moving up its timetable for the new computerized tests by a year, leaving some school districts scrambling to prepare.

Schools must have enough computers available on each campus to handle the testing, for example. Until now, state standardized tests were conducted entirely with pencil and paper.

The new exams also would upend plans in the Los Angeles Unified School District to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. Such performance reviews would be impossible because the results could not be compared to previous years.

The plan emerged in written form Wednesday afternoon, after intense negotiations that included the governor's office, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, legislative leaders and the state's powerful teacher unions.

The legislation "shows California's commitment to implementing Common Core standards and helping every student succeed," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown. "The governor strongly supports this legislation."

The state hopes the cost will be covered by money saved from suspending the old tests, for which California budgeted about $64 million.

Still to weigh in is the Education Department of the Obama administration, which is expected to scrutinize the proposal because elements violate current federal law. Specifically, scores for students and schools will not be released, making it more difficult to assess whether schools are improving.

The test is not yet ready for that purpose, officials said.

"These tests next year are not about scores," said Deputy Supt. Deborah Sigman. "This is about testing the test and giving students and teachers experience about what this test will look like."

Certain questions, for example, might prove to have biased results depending on a student's gender or could have ambiguous wording. A new feature of the computer-based test is that it will get more difficult or easier depending on student answers.

Districts won't even receive the results, which bothers some advocates. Moreover, there will only be a limited menu of exams. The new tests, in math and English, would be given in grades three through eight and 11th grade. The old tests would still be used, for now, to measure science in three grades.

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