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Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan Warns California Not to Suspend Tests

California may be proposing some pretty big changes to its testing system, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out with a strongly worded statement tonight warning that there could be some dire consequences for doing it.

As my colleague Michele McNeil reports on Politics K-12, Duncan has some stern words for California, which has been talking with the department about how it could get approval to dump most of its current testing system for 2013-14. UPDATE: See our full story on edweek.org.

Here is Duncan's statement. It's not one of the blandest ones the department has issued.

"A request from California to not measure the achievement of millions of students this year is not something we could approve in good conscience. Raising standards to better prepare students for college and careers is absolutely the right thing to do, but letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools' performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition. No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students' achievement, you need to know how all students are doing. If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state.

"In states like California that will be field-testing more sophisticated and useful assessments this school year, the Department has offered flexibility to allow each student to take their state's current assessment in English language arts and math or the new field tests in those subjects. That's a thoughtful approach as states are transitioning to new standards. While standards and tests may not match up perfectly yet, backing away entirely from accountability and transparency is not good for students, parents, schools and districts.

"California has demonstrated its leadership by raising its standards, investing in their implementation and working with other states to develop new assessments, and I urge the state to continue to be a positive force for reform."

California officials expect the legislature to complete action on AB 484 this week. It's already moved through the Assembly, and is now in the Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown is reportedly ready to sign it, assuming it comes through without major changes. And from what I gathered in interviews today, the state board might just be willing to consider accepting federal penalties to move ahead with its plan, if that's what it comes down to.

Stay tuned. This should be an interesting situation to watch.

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