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California Schools Begin New Standardized Testing Program

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

A sample question in one of California's new standardized tests - in this case, a Math Grades 6-8 test.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Say goodbye to those old “Scantron” bubble tests. California’s new standardized school testing program is officially under way. The tests are on computers now - and the questions are open-ended.

I’m sitting in front of a Mac Book Air laptop in the Sutter Middle School library in Sacramento, checking out one of the new tests – for Math, grades six through eight.

Here's one of the questions: “Micah constructs a rectangular prism with a volume of 360 cubic units. The height of his prism is 10 units. Micah claims that the base of the prism must be a square. Use the connect line tool to draw a base that shows Micah’s claim is incorrect.”

Turns out there are several possible answers to that question – including the one I drew, 3-by-12. It took me about two minutes to figure that out and use the computer to draw my answer.

“You’ll see a lot less rote memorization,” says State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson. “You’ll see a lot less of that multiple choice kind of testing that’s been in the past.”

Torlakson says the new tests – formally called the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress – are based on the state’s new education standards, including the national Common Core Curriculum. Pencils, paper and multiple choice questions are out; computers and critical thinking questions are in.

But the use of computers troubles some parents.

“Unfortunately, our kids don’t get to use the computers every day,” says Maria Haro-Sullivan of Sacramento. “So there’s a lot of our kids – because of our 75 percent demographic of free and reduced lunch poverty – they don’t have computers at home. They don’t necessarily know how to use the computers.”

Some districts are beginning their testing this week; others will start soon. Results will come much more quickly now – in weeks, not months. But Torlakson cautions against comparing new test scores to old ones, since the tests are so different.

 education

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio