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In game of chicken with Federal government, California legislature approves slow switch to new standardized tests

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On a 51-22 vote, California’s state assembly on Wednesday approved a bill that would transition schools to new standardized tests - and temporarily reduce the number of tests during a transition period - despite warnings from the federal government that the plan is against the law.

AB 484 allows districts to start giving one of the new Common Core field tests, in English or math, this spring.  

But federal law requires states to test students in both subjects in 3rd through 8th grade and once in high school. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says he may withhold federal education funds if California ignores the law.  

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, told colleagues many educators believe it makes no sense to keep giving the old tests as California schools begin teaching new learning standards this year called the Common Core.

During Wednesday's vote, she said the administration is behind the bill: "We have the governor’s support, we have the state superintendent of public instruction Tom Torlakson as the sponsor."

The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature. He has indicated he supports the measure.

Bonilla told fellow legislators that  Brown would help turn around Duncan’s opposition.

Because the new tests are computerized, officials said the measure allows districts that are not equipped to take them to skip testing altogether this spring. It also shields from public reporting the results of any tests taken this school year - and possibly next.

Among the dissenters during Wednesday's debate were Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen. She echoed Duncan's argument that assessing schools is paramount.

"Accountability must be the biggest factor," she said. "In fact it’s the universally acknowledged purpose of state testing. Assessments provide the public with some assurance that their $70 billion investment in public schools in being spent wisely."