Gov. Jerry Brown will call for less statewide testing and expanding classroom focus beyond math and English in his annual State of the State address tomorrow, according to his top education adviser.
Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education, told hundreds of school finance officials today that Brown will seek to reduce student testing and push districts to focus on a broader array of subject areas. She spoke at an annual workshop produced by School Services of California, which advises districts on how to budget for the next school year.
"We think there's way, way too much testing in our system right now," Burr said. "Just as an example, a 10th grade student takes 15 hours' worth of tests. So that sophomore is losing 15 hours of their instructional program."
Burr said that while some testing is necessary for measuring schools, Brown will ask lawmakers to "take (hours) away from testing and give it back to instruction."
Last year, Brown vetoed Senate Bill 547 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to replace the state's current Academic Performance Index with a broader measurement that gives credit for graduation rate, college preparation and career development.
When he ran in 2010, the Democratic governor said he wanted to overhaul the state's student testing system. But he panned Steinberg's approach of adding different metrics. In his veto message, Brown wrote, "SB 547 certainly would add more things to measure, but it is doubtful that it would actually improve our schools. Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine."
A common complaint by Steinberg and Brown is that the statewide testing system has driven teachers to focus too heavily on English and math. Brown wants to change school incentives so that teachers feel comfortable emphasizing other subjects, as well.
"We've spent way too much time over the last several years narrowing our curriculum to English language arts and mathematics," Burr said. "While those are critically important, we can't ignore history. We can't ignore science. We can't ignore civics. We can't ignore the arts."
She also noted that Brown wants to improve educator performance by focusing on all teachers and school leaders, not just rewarding top performers and firing the worst. "We think that's a wrongheaded conversation," she said. "We must build the capacity of all of our teachers."
Burr didn't provide specific details of Brown's proposals, she said, because Brown was preparing to "roll these out tomorrow in his State of the State."
Brown press secretary Gil Duran would not confirm this afternoon whether the governor plans to discuss any of the topics Burr mentioned. "Nobody knows what's going to be in the State of the State until it's given," Duran said.