SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal education officials renewed a threat this week to withhold funds from California if it moves forward this spring with a plan to abandon the standardized tests the state's public school students have taken since 1999.
The U.S. Department of Education informed state officials through a letter that more than $3.5 billion in federal aid for disadvantaged students is at stake in the dispute, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle wrote that federal officials support the new computerized tests California wants to give students in grades 3-8 and 11 on a trial basis.
But Delisle says the state's plan to have students take either the math or language sections and not report the 2014 test results for individual students or schools would be out of compliance with federal law — specifically the provisions of the No Child Left Behind that require students from 3rd grade on to be tested in both areas every year and school-wide scores to be made public.
"We are concerned that failure to comply with this requirement would have a negative impact on students, particularly at-risk students such as English Learners, students with disabilities and low-income students," she wrote.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst issued a statement saying they remain committed to launching the new tests statewide and hopeful they will be able to satisfy the concerns of federal officials.
"To the extent there is disagreement with the federal government, there is a process for addressing it, and we'll continue to work with officials in Washington," they said. "Federal officials have never before taken money out of classrooms, and we would hope and expect that they would not start now."
California is seeking to replace the pencil-and-paper, multiple-choice STAR tests with new language and math tests taken on computers, called the Measurement of Academic Progress and Performance. The tests are being developed with other states to follow a set of national curriculum standards known as Common Core, but California is the only state preparing to give it to all students this spring instead of conducting a limited field test.