California's proficiency test

The California Pupil Proficiency Law requires each local school district to adopt standards and testing procedures in reading comprehension, writing, and computation. Students are to be assessed against these standards at lease once in Grades 4-6, 7-9, 10 and 11. For students not making progress toward meeting the district's standards, remedial programs must be provided.

Students in the graduating class of June, 1981, are the first that are required to meet district proficiency standards to receive a high school diploma under the California law. About half of California's school districts report that 70 percent or more of last year's high school sophomores have passed the district tests.

The California law grants broad discretion to local school districts in determining their basic skills assessment and instructional procedures. It specifically precludes the State Board and State Dept. of Ed. from promulgating a statewide proficiency test or conducting monitoring or compliance reiews of local procedures. The role of the Education Dept. has been limited to provision of technical assistance and training to assist districts in meeting the requirements of the law.

About 78 percent of 155 school districts surveyed have developed their own tests, rather than purchasing commercially developed tests. This approach is felt to engender understanding and ownership of the tests among teachers.

Administrators in 42 percent of the secondary and unified districts surveyed reported that the Proficiency Law is having a "significant" effect on curriculum and instruction. Another 56 percent of these districts reported at least a "marginal" effect. In addition, more than 90 percent reported that more time was now being devoted to basic skills instruction than in the past. Districts are making serious efforts to link proficiency objectives to local programs.

The Dept. of Education's Office of Program Evaluation and Research has found that although the law allows districts to develop or select their own proficiency tests, districts seem to have taken a relatively consistent view of minimum basic skills. Very few districts chose to assess skills that were unusally simple or complex.

One possible problem developing with the competency program is the large number of parents of high school students failing to appear for conferences the schools are required to hold if students fail the proficiency tests. Twenty-five percent of the districts sampled by the study reported that less than half of the parents of failing students have come.

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