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California, U.S. Department of Education Keep Up Fight Over Science Testing

California and the U.S. Department of Education continue to fight over the best tests to measure students' achievement in science.

Earlier this week, the Education Department rejected California's request for a waiver that would allow the state to skip standardized science tests for two years. The state wanted to give new pilot tests based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which the state adopted in 2013.

In a letter, Ann Whalen, an adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, laid out the concerns with California's plan, writing "CDE's proposed pilot tests would not measure the full depth and breadth of the state's academic content standards in science, as each student would receive only a sample of assessment items during the pilot phase, and both the proposed pilot and field tests would not be aligned to the relevant academic achievement standards, as such achievement standards would not have been established."

Whalen also expressed displeasure with the state's proposal to forego administering its current science assessments during any pilot testing and its plan not to release the scores of these tests.

The department argued that for these reasons the state would be out of compliance with federal education laws.

The state is vowing to appeal.

In a joint statement, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst asserted that, "California moves forward, not backward."

They also expressed their disappointment with the decision.

"We reject their insistence that we double-test," they wrote. "We believe the denial of this request harms our students, who will be forced to study science based on state standards adopted in 1998 that are outmoded and not designed for the 21st century. California plans to move full-speed ahead implementing our new, computer-adaptive science assessment pilot in 2017."

It's unclear now how a change in the national administration next month would affect this situation, although some have speculated that President-elect Donald Trump might be more amenable to California's position since he supports states' playing a larger role in education policy.


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