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LAUSD superintendent seeks state testing relief

Dozens of schools across LAUSD have iPads, but Superintendent Ramon Cortines said students need more practice before high-stakes testing in the spring.
Dozens of schools across LAUSD have iPads, but Superintendent Ramon Cortines said students need more practice before high-stakes testing in the spring.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is asking state officials to hold off on using test scores to measure improvement for the second year in a row.

"We do not feel that our students have had adequate time practicing on the testing devices," Cortines said in a letter Friday to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. 

Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 are scheduled to take the tests in the spring on newly issued tablets and laptops.

Under Cortines' request, first reported by LA School Report, scores would still be delivered to students, parents and schools, but would not be counted toward schools' Academic Performance Index, the measure by which California schools' determine improvement on tests.

Keric Ashley, an administrator at the California Department of Education, said the state board has the authority to set aside API scores and plans to take up the issue at its January meeting.

"Regardless of this public discussion of the API, schools and parents will receive scores and the Superintendent strongly urges all schools to continue their preparation for the computer-adaptive assessments coming in the spring," Ashley said in an email.

Cortines' request follows the school board's approval last week of $22 million in testing technology, bringing the district's inventory of devices to 120,000 iPads and Chromebooks. 

About 45,000 of those devices have been distributed to schools, and students were preparing to take their tests on the equipment.

But Cortines wrote in his letter: "I do not believe that the assessments this spring will be an accurate demonstration of what students have learned nor what our teachers have taught this year." 

California schools switched last year to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a digital test aligned with new Common Core learning standards. 

Schools are required to test students on math and English language arts and report their performance to the state. According to the federal No Child Left Behind law, those states that do not comply risk losing billions in federal funding. 

The law also requires schools to bring up all students to proficiency levels in reading and math. If they fall short of yearly targets, they can face sanctions. 

Last year, Torlakson and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan faced off over whether California could opt out of reporting results during the transition to the new tests.

“A request from California to not measure the achievement of millions of students this year is not something we could approve in good conscience," Duncan warned California officials September 2013. 

The state did not report test data last year.

In his letter, Cortines said lack of testing results from 2013 is heightening concerns this year.

"We have no way of gauging how our students did and whether or not they struggled with the content, test, technology or a combination of all three," he said.