Learning from the Past: Drawing on California’s CLAS Experience to Inform Assessment of the Common Core (2012)

Joel Knudson, Stephanie Hannan, and Jennifer O’Day

The Common Core State Standards represent an exciting step forward for California and for the nation as a whole in supporting strong instruction that can better prepare students for college and career success.

To realize the benefits of the Common Core, however, educators must implement the standards well, applying lessons gleaned over two decades of standards-based reform. In this vein, forward-thinking districts have already started building capacity and adapting instructional materials and practices to prepare students to master this new set of college- and career-readiness standards. Because assessment tasks not only provide evidence of student learning, but can also help teachers understand the nature of learning embodied in the Common Core, these district activities often focus on student assessment as an essential component of the implementation and instructional process.

This is not the first time that California has transitioned to a new system of academic standards, instruction, and assessment; in particular, potential parallels exist between the assessment the SBAC is developing and the short-lived California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) from the early 1990s.

Though the CLAS received praise from many educators as being “cutting edge,” it was plagued by both technical flaws and political controversies that led to its discontinuation after only two years. As educators embrace the challenges associated with assessment of the Common Core, it is instructive to learn from the CLAS experience—both to build on its successes and to avoid the mistakes that led to its demise.