Worried about a loss of continuity in standardized testing, some members of the Palo Alto school board say they want local students to take some kind of test that counts next spring despite recent state legislation that suspends the California Standards Test (CST).
They asked Superintendent Kevin Skelly on Tuesday to look into purchasing the CST or some other kind of district-wide assessment for Palo Alto students.
A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this month ends CST testing in California and orders school districts next spring to give practice tests based on the new Common Core State Standards, which are being phased in, in 45 states including California. The practice tests would not record results of individual students or schools.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who strongly pushed for the legislation, has advocated a quick shift from the old testing regime and an embrace of the new.
But Palo Alto school board members said they want to have a standardized measure of student progress during the transition period.
"We as a district have to make sure we have the CST continue until such time as we find a new assessment," member Camille Townsend said.
"We're early in the process of even writing these Common Core assessment tools, so when they say, 'This isn't rolled out' well, it's really early, folks, and I hate our district to jump too far ahead without having the appropriate tools to evaluate our current excellence, maintain our current excellence and then work to adopt the Common Core in an appropriate fashion."
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said the board should not dictate that the test necessarily be the CST but ask for a recommendation from educators.
"The easy answer might be to just buy the CST because that's the easiest way to go, but I just want to make sure you have room to make other recommendations," she told Skelly.
With confusion rampant on the implication of the new standards, Caswell also asked for future board discussion on how the transition is going.
"There seems to be such variance depending on who you talk to as to how different this (Common Core) is from how we're teaching today, what we're teaching today and what our kids need to do today versus when this rolls out," she said.
"Some people say it's hardly different but the principals (in a meeting) today couldn't say what percentage we are away from it. It would be nice to have some kind of range, like 'We're 75 percent there.'
"What I'm hearing from parents is, 'We want to know how far away we are from the new stuff. We want to know if our kids are going to be tested this year, and if they're not going to be tested, we want to know how we'll know how they're doing,'" Caswell said.
In recent years, school district statistician Diana Wilmot has extensively used CST data to track the progress of various subgroups, including underrepresented minorities, against goals set by the district.
Skelly said he would come back with suggestions about testing for next spring.
Board President Dana Tom warned against overtesting.
"If we do decide to do something with CSTs I don't think we should overcommit for multiple years at the get-go because we don't want to do double-testing of students if it takes instructional days out," he said.