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As state awaits federal decision, Gov. Brown criticizes standardized tests

California Gov. Jerry Brown.
California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday railed against standardized tests for school children - and complained about what he called a federal take over of public schools.

"We’ve had 10, 12 years of standardized testing and in the latest international tests America hasn’t gone up very much if at all," Brown said on stage at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview during an interview with the editor of The Atlantic magazine.

"There are important educational encounters that can’t be captured in tests that are managed from headquarters by [U.S. Education Secretary] Arne Duncan or someone in Sacramento," Brown said.

He said standardized testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind law is "just national control" over education policy and amounts to "the blind leading the blind."

“Secretary Arne Duncan – like a lot of leading educators – believes that tests do serve a crucial function," Department of Education spokesman Stephen Spector responded in an email Tuesday. "Tests provide data that allow school systems to make important decisions based on how much students are learning. And history shows that when we don’t do that, it’s the performance of the most vulnerable students that gets swept under the rug."

Brown had also criticized No Child Left Behind and the reach of federal education officials during his State of the State address last January.

But Monday's comments come as California and the Department of Education negotiate a waiver to federal rules as dozens of states put new Common Core tests into place.

With the tests in the testing phase themselves, Brown signed a law earlier this year cutting down on testing this coming spring - and keeping the results of those tests secret. Students would only be tested in math or English, not both.

Duncan had said such a move would put federal funding at risk. Federal rules require testing in both subjects for specific grades. They also require results to be publicly disclosed.

In response, California officials last month changed tact, saying they would give students half of each test. It's unclear whether that would satisfy federal officials. The U.S. Department of Education said it would review California's waiver application.