Schools statewide, including all four Laguna Beach Unified School District campuses, will not be rated on students' performance on familiar standardized tests this year as California transitions to new assessments.
Supt. Sherine Smith praised Gov. Jerry Brown for signing Assembly Bill 484 into law last week, paving the way for tests that align with the Common Core State Standards, revamped assessments that focus on interpretation, critical thinking and writing for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Schools will not receive an Academic Performance Index ranking this year as the trial tests are given.
"It makes a lot of sense to suspend the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program to give schools and teachers time to become familiar with field testing in math and English-language arts," Smith said. "It will allow teachers to become familiar with the test questions. The students will have to take tests on computers, which is a dramatic change."
The law suspends most STAR tests to allow districts to transition to new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress assessments, set to go into effect in the 2014-15 school year, according to a California Department of Education news release.
This year's trial tests will be computer-based, allowing for a broader range of test questions than multiple-choice exams, the release said.
Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 will take either an English-language or mathematics field test, the state education department website said. Grade-level science tests will be given to students in fifth, eighth and 10th grades, according to the website.
A student's previous responses will affect the difficulty of subsequent questions, allowing for more precise measurement of student skills and knowledge than the former tests, according to the release.
The transition to Common Core is already underway at the district's four schools: El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools, Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School, Smith said in a follow-up email.
"In September, [district officials] selected lead teachers at each school to help lead implementation efforts at each school," she said. "These teachers will facilitate conversations and meetings with colleagues regarding implementation of the Common Core state standards, attend regularly scheduled professional learning opportunities focused on [training, coaching and supporting teachers]."
Teachers will also work together to develop instructional resources, including lessons, and build relationships with a school's staff to promote open communication and further improve instruction, according to Smith.
Teachers will receive training and support from Linda Barker, the teacher on special assignment with Common Core, Darlene Messinger, the district's assistant superintendent of instructional services, chief technology officer Sean Cole, and Orange County Department of Education officials, according to Smith.
California joins 44 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the Common Core standards for math and English-language arts, the release said.
However, AB 484 drew criticism from the nation's top education official, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In September, Duncan threatened to withhold funding from California schools if Brown signed AB 484.
"If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds," Duncan was quoted as saying in a Los Angeles Times story.
"Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools' performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition. No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students' achievement, you need to know how all students are doing."
Laguna Beach Unified would not take a substantial financial hit if the federal government withholds funding, said Dean West, assistant superintendent of business services.
"We don't receive a large percentage of federal money," West said.
The district receives 86.4% of its total revenue from property taxes and 2.1% from federal assistance funds, according to the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.
"The majority of the federal revenue we receive is normally on a reimbursement basis, therefore was spent based on an awarded allocation," he added. "We have become accustomed to receiving the federal money at a later date."