Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill


The Governor's budget proposes $221 million to develop, administer, and analyze state assessments, an increase of $97 million over estimated current-year expenditures and more than three times the spending level for this purpose in 1999-00. Figure 1 shows the increase in funding of state assessments over the last two years. Figure 2 provides background on the major state assessments.

Figure 1

Funding for State Assessments
General Fund (Proposition 98)

1999-00 Through 2001-02
(In Millions)





STAR a Program




Golden State Exam




English Language Development




High School Exit Exam (HSEE)




Career Technical Assessment




Review and Reporting




STAR and HSEE Workbooks


STAR data analysis


Test Development









a Standardized Testing and Reporting.

b Test development was funded with $12 million from the Proposition 98 Reversion Account.

The Governor's budget includes five major assessment expansions as shown in Figure 1 and described below.

Assessment Reauthorization

The Leroy Greene California Assessment of Academic Achievement Act (Chapter 975, Statutes of 1995 [AB 265, Alpert]), reenacted the Golden State Exam (GSE), and created the STAR program, which has been evolving ever since. Figure 2 shows the three components of the STAR program that are currently operating. STAR expansions include:

Figure 2

Major State Assessments

Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR)


  • Purpose. Individual pupil measure of achievement used to compare pupils across all schools. Monitor student achievement in California against a national norm. Currently only measure used for state's accountability system.

  • Subjects. Reading, math, language, and spelling (grades 2-8). Reading, math, language, science, and social science (grades 9-11).

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Required, grades 2-11.

  • Positives. Allows schools and students to be easily compared. Tells students their achievement relative to others in the nation.

  • Negatives. Not aligned to academic content standards, same questions used each year, not good at differentiating among highest-achieving pupils.

Standards-Aligned STAR

  • Purpose. Determine each student's proficiency at learning subject matter covered by state's academic content standards. Provides measure of student writing ability.

  • Subjects. Writing (4th and 7th grades only), English/language arts, math, science, and social science.

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Required, grades 2-11.

  • Positives. Eventually provide information for accountability system. Assesses writing, not just multiple choice questions. Aligned to standards.

  • Negatives. State adopted tough standards that might make tests very hard for many students. Writing assessments expensive to grade.

Spanish Assessment of Basic Education (SABE 2)

  • Purpose. Pupil-level basic skills test in Spanish for English language learners whose primary language is Spanish.

  • Subjects. Reading, language, math, and spelling.

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Required for pupils enrolled 12 months or less, optional for other students grades 2-11.

  • Positives. Achievement information in core subjects for pupils not fluent enough to be tested in English. Indicates whether pupils are acquiring skills beyond language acquisition.

  • Negatives. Not consistent with policy goals of Proposition 227. Usually administered once per student, rarely used to assess growth. Administered to fewer than 8 percent of the state's English language learners. (See discussion below). Only in Spanish, not other languages.

Golden State Exam (GSE)

  • Purpose. Quality end-of-course exams to compare pupil achievement in specific classes to statewide standards.

  • Subjects. 13 specific course tests: 3 math tests, 2 English/language arts, 3 social science, 4 science, and Spanish.

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Optional grades 9-12.

  • Positives. Feedback to students and teachers on how well students learn material compared to state standards.

  • Negatives. Results not available in timely way. Not all pupils take exams, so cannot use results to compare schools.

English Language Development (ELD)

  • Purpose. Diagnostic assessment to help schools place English language learners (ELLs) in appropriate learning settings. Measures acquisition of language skills over time, and assists schools in deciding which pupils to redesignate to fluent in English.

  • Subjects. English acquisition.

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Required for ELL students, all grades.

  • Positives. Comparable statewide measure of how well pupils are acquiring English. Aligned to English language development standards.

  • Negatives. Burden placed on schools to administer the oral component annually. Results take six to eight weeks to be returned to schools, negating benefits of this diagnostic tool for placement decisions.

High School Exit Exam (HSEE)

  • Purpose. Improve high school achievement and ensure high school graduates reach grade-level competency in reading, writing, and math.

  • Subjects. Math, English/language arts, and writing.

  • Requirement and Grade Level. Required for 10th graders (See HSEE discussion below). Can be taken in grades 9-12.

  • Positives. Ensures a minimum level of academic achievement for all graduates. May improve performance at lower-performing schools.

  • Negatives. May increase student drop-out rates. May unfairly judge students who were not given adequate opportunity to learn.

Other Assessments Administered to K-12 Students

  • Various district assessments, Physical Education, Assessment of Career Education, High School Proficiency Exam, General Education Development, Scholastic Aptitude Test I and II, Pre-SAT, Advance Placement Exams, International Baccalaureate Exams, ACT, CSU entry level exams in mathematics and English, and UC Subject A Exam.

The provisions of Chapter 975 will sunset in January 2002. As part of any reauthorization, the Legislature will have the opportunity to reexamine the testing system that has evolved. There are five major assessments authorized by Chapter 975. The Legislature will need to determine the role each assessment will play in the future state assessment system, as discussed below.

Standards-Aligned STAR. In the future, we believe this assessment should be the backbone of the state's assessment system. The state has made a significant investment in the development of academic content standards, alignment of textbooks to those standards, and retraining of teachers around the standards. The full implementation of this test, and its inclusion in the Academic Performance Index (API) is an essential step to ensuring that students are learning what the state has determined is needed.

National Norm-Referenced Test (Currently the Stanford-9). Chapter 828, Statutes of 1997 (SB 376, Alpert), required the SBE to purchase an "off-the-shelf" test in order to start administering a statewide assessment of students, even though the academic content standards still were under development. Now that test, the Stanford-9, has become the only measure used for individual and school comparisons, and the only outcome measure used to calculate the API. (See "Accountability" section for discussion of the role of the Stanford-9 in the API). As the Standards-Aligned STAR is integrated into the API, the Legislature will have the option to reconsider the value of the Stanford-9. The Legislature will need answers to three questions about the nationally norm-referenced test:

Spanish Assessment of Basic Education, Second Edition (SABE 2). The SABE 2 is a basic skills test of math, language arts, reading and spelling that is administered in Spanish to ELL students in their first year in a school district. The Legislature will want to reconsider the value of this primary language test, and whether its administration is consistent with the intent of Proposition 227 (see discussion of SABE 2 below).

Golden State Exams. The GSE are 13 end-of-course exams for college-track students to determine their achievement level compared to state academic content standards. There may continue to be a role for the GSE to provide end-of-course exams for California's higher-achieving students. This is because the tests (1) provide students with information on how their achievement compares to what the state requires that they should learn in a specific subject, and (2) provides feedback to teachers on how well their students are learning the standards for that course.

Assessment of Applied Academic Skills or "Matrix Test." The matrix test, as required by Chapter 975, was originally planned to be the foundation of the state's assessment system. The test was to be administered in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10, and provide an in-depth school level assessment of how well students had learned each of the subject matter areas covered by the content standards. Although this test has never been developed, it also has never been eliminated from the Education Code. With the Standards-Aligned STAR almost fully implemented, and the HSEE being administered soon, there may no longer be a need for the matrix test.

Eliminate Primary Language Test Requirement

We recommend that legislation be enacted to eliminate the requirement that districts test limited-English-proficient pupils in their primary language because Proposition 227 generally requires schools to transition children to English fluency rapidly. We further recommend redirection of the $1.7 million for the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education Exam—the only one of these primary language exams in use—to other education priorities. (Reduce Item 6110-113-0001 by $1.7 million.)

Under the STAR program, school districts are required to test limited-English-proficient pupils in grades 2 through 11 in their primary language if such a test is available and the pupils have been enrolled in a California public school for less than 12 months. In addition, districts may administer a primary language test to pupils with limited English proficiency who have been enrolled for longer than 12 months. Existing law requires the SBE to designate the single primary language test in each language for which such a test is available for pupils in grades 2 through 11. Currently, the SBE has only designated one such test—the SABE 2, to test Spanish-speaking pupils in reading, language, mathematics, and spelling. The test currently is administered to about 8 percent of the state's 1.5 million ELL pupils because most schools do not administer the test to pupils beyond the required first year. The Governor's budget includes $1.7 million in Proposition 98 funds under Item 6110-113-0001 for the SABE 2, in order to (1) pay the test publisher for materials and exam scoring and (2) reimburse school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools for administering the exam.

Proposition 227, passed by the voters in June 1998, in essence requires that children in California's public schools learn English by being taught in all subjects predominantly in English. Generally, Proposition 227 requires schools to place ELL pupils in special "sheltered English immersion" classes taught predominantly in English, and to limit bilingual education classes to specified exceptional circumstances. The proposition states that (1) ELL pupils should move from special classes to regular classes when they have acquired a good working knowledge of English and (2) normally these classes should not last longer than one year.

Given the changes made by the proposition and its objective to help ELL pupils learn English as quickly as possible, we believe there is no longer a reason for the state to require certain ELLs to be tested in Spanish. For instance, the results from the SABE 2 are not included in the state's current accountability system and are not used to make comparisons of achievement across schools. Moreover, the SABE 2 is rarely of use for assessing a pupil's academic growth, because existing law requires districts to administer the primary language test only once to any individual ELL pupil.

In view of the above, we recommend that legislation be enacted to eliminate the requirement that districts test limited-English-proficient pupils in their primary language if the pupils have been enrolled in a California public school for less than 12 months. We further recommend redirection of the $1.7 million for the SABE 2 to other education priorities. (Reduce Item 6110-113-0001 by $1.7 million.) Under our proposal, districts, county offices of education, and charter schools still would have the option of allocating a portion of their general purpose funds to test ELL pupils in their primary language if local school officials deemed such a test to be useful for local purposes. In addition, the ELD test would still be assessed annually in each grade, providing a comprehensive assessment over time of an ELL's English proficiency based on state standards.

The HSEE Changes Would Create Savings

We recommend that the Legislature (1) reduce funding for administration of the High School Exit Exam (HSEE) by $35 million and (2) require the State Department of Education to report on the costs of developing and administering the HSEE. (Reduce Item 6110-113-0001 by $35 million.)

The Governor's budget provides $61 million to administer the HSEE three times during the 2001-02 school year. Since developing the Governor's budget, the administration has been advised by testing and legal experts to change the way in which the state administers the HSEE. Senate Bill 84 (O'Connell) includes these recommended changes to HSEE administration.

Under current law:

Senate Bill 84 would change HSEE to:

Senate Bill 84 would not change the schedule for 11th and 12th graders. Beginning in 2002-03, students in in 11th grade would have three changes to take the test. Beginning in 2003-04, students in each of these grades would have three chances to take the test.

Assessment experts have advised SDE and SBE that it is important to offer a "census" administration of the test to allow test experts to determine the appropriate "cut score" for passing/not passing the HSEE. In a census administration, all students in a specific grade are required to take the test at the same time. The Governor now proposes that the first census administration for 10th grade students occur in the spring of 2002. Legal experts have advised the SDE not to offer the census administration to 9th grade students. Since the test covers material that in some cases meets 10th grade academic content standards, 9th graders would not necessarily have had adequate opportunity to learn the material.

Changed Policy Creates Opportunity for Budget Savings. The proposed changes discussed above in the test administration would, if implemented, reduce costs of HSEE administration in 2001-02. Instead of the $61 million proposed in the budget, the state could provide the single administration of the HSEE in 2001-02 for considerably less. We estimate these savings would be at least $35 million. Actual savings would depend on other factors—such as the costs of test item development and funding school district administration of the HSEE. Accordingly, we recommend the Legislature reduce funding for the HSEE by $35 million, and require the SDE to report at budget hearings on the costs of developing and administering the HSEE. Based upon the SDE cost estimates, the Legislature may be able to reduce the HSEE funding level even further.

Should the State Release the Questions on the HSEE?

We recommend that the State Department of Education report on the costs of publically releasing High School Exit Exam (HSEE) test questions, and that the Legislature codify a policy about releasing HSEE test questions.

Currently, the SDE plans to publically release questions on the HSEE to be administered in spring 2001 after the test is given. The Education Code is silent on whether the SDE legally can release the test. The SDE argues that releasing the test questions will help the public see the level of material that is on the test, and may help 10th grade students prepare for the spring 2002 test. This approach may have merit but releasing the test would increase the cost of administration because test questions would have to be changed each time. We believe the Legislature should determine if the benefits are worth the cost. We recommend that the SDE report prior to budget hearings on the cost impact of releasing test questions. We further recommend that the Legislature codify if and how test questions can be released to the public. Three potential options are: (1) release all questions from all administrations, (2) only release questions from the main (spring) administration, (3) allow the SDE to selectively release test questions.

On-Line Assessments

We recommend the Legislature appropriate $250,000 from the General Fund (non-Proposition 98) to the State Department of Education to contract for a study of the feasibility of administering state assessments on-line because of potential long-run benefits and cost savings. (Augment Item 6110-001-0001 by $250,000.)

Recently, major testing companies have begun offering assessments on-line. There are several advantages to offering tests on-line:

Based upon the advantages of on-line testing, we believe that it is worthwhile for California to study the feasibility of administering tests on-line. Of course not all tests can administered on-line. For example, offering the STAR test on-line would not be feasible because over four million students need to take the STAR test during a relatively small testing "window." We believe, however, that the following three California tests potentially could be offered on-line.

These three assessments could be offered on-line because they are offered to small subsets of a school's enrollment at one time. The ELD test has an additional advantage of helping the school make a placement decision in a more timely fashion. The ELD test is administered to ELL pupils when they first move into a school district. Under the current SDE plan, the test takes between six to eight weeks to grade. This forces schools to place the students without the benefit of the ELD test results. Administering the test on-line would eliminate this problem and allow the ELD results to assist schools in placing ELL pupils in the best learning environments.

Based on the significant potential for educational benefits and monetary savings, we recommend the Legislature appropriate $250,000 non-Proposition 98 funds to the SDE to contract for a study of the feasibility of administering California assessments on-line.

The STAR and HSEE Workbooks

We recommend the Legislature approve $27.5 million requested for the initial distribution of assessment workbooks, but do so as a one-time appropriation and provide $5 million annually in future years for annual workbook replacement costs. (Redesignate $22.5 million in Item 6110-113-0001 as one-time spending.)

The Governor's budget proposes $27.5 million for the development and distribution of student study workbooks for the HSEE and STAR. We agree with the need for such workbooks. Providing students with an HSEE workbook will help give them the adequate opportunity to learn the material that is essential for the test to be fair and legally defensible. For the STAR test, workbooks would ensure a level playing field for test preparation. With the most recent administration of the STAR test, the SBE had to review several incidents of possibly illegal test preparations. There seems to be a lot of gray area in what is appropriate test preparation and what is not. The workbooks would ensure equal access to test preparation materials and help reduce this ambiguity.

The Governor's budget funds this program with an ongoing appropriation, and plans to provide new workbooks to each student each year. However, we believe that once distributed to schools, most student workbooks could be reused from year to year. We suggest adopting a five-year replacement schedule, and provide funding to replace 20 percent of the workbooks each year. Therefore, we recommend the Legislature provide $5 million in ongoing funding for the replacement costs of workbooks, and use $22.5 million in one-time Proposition 98 funding for the remaining first-year cost of development and the initial distribution of the workbooks.

Consultant to Align State Tests to Academic Content Standards

We recommend the Legislature move $3 million of one-time non-Proposition 98 funds requested for the State Board of Education's support budget to the State Department of Education's (SDE) support budget for the purpose of hiring consultants to assist in aligning state tests with academic content standards. (Redesignate $3 million appropriation to SDE.)

The Governor's budget proposes $3 million from the General Fund (non-Proposition 98) on a one-time basis to the SBE to hire a consultant to (1) ensure that the STAR and HSEE are aligned to the academic content standards and (2) develop performance measures for the two tests. The funding for this proposal would be provided in an as yet unidentified bill. Although the SBE has oversight authority for the state testing system, the SDE is charged by the Legislature with developing and administering both tests. In addition, the Legislature has authorized SDE to administer all contracting requirements related to the state testing system. Accordingly, we recommend the Legislature redirect $3 million in non-Proposition 98 funding from the SBE's support budget to the SDE's support budget.

Return to Education Table of Contents, 2001-02 Budget Analysis