State moving toward computerized student testing; Tsunami threat is real; Council okays new L.A. murals

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todaysnewsbanner2School testing. California lawmakers are moving to ditch the state’s standardized exams for public school students and replace them with a new computerized system next spring. Backers say the new tests will help speed the transition to Common Core standards in California, which are designed to develop critical thinking and writing skills.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla authored the bill. She says it would let teachers see where their students are based on those standards immediately.

“I think those formative assessments are going to be critical also to achieving what we all want to see, which is our kids coming out of school and becoming more successful,” Bonilla said.

The bill was hammered out in an Assembly committee with input from the governor’s office, legislators, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and teacher unions. The state hopes the cost of the new exams will be offset by savings from eliminating the old tests.

But there is concern in some quarters that portions of the bill could violate federal law. Specifically, scores for students and schools would not be released, making it more difficult to assess progress. The scores also would not be used to evaluate teachers.

Another potential snag is that some districts currently don’t have enough computers to test all their students. That will mean a scramble to get up to speed by June.

The Senate could vote on the bill before the end of the week. L.A. Times

Hunger strike. California inmates have ended a nearly two-month hunger strike to protest the prison system’s isolation policies.  Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard says all inmates have started accepting prison-issued meals.  More than 30,000 inmates had been refusing meals when the strike began in July. By this week the number had dwindled to 100 strikers, including 40 who had been on strike continuously since July 8.  The strike ended after two Democratic state legislators promised to hold hearings this fall on inmates’ complaints that gang leaders are often held for decades in isolation units. AP

Tsunami threat. How big of a hit would the Southern California coast take if a large tsunami triggered by a big Alaskan earthquake struck our shores?. Scientists, emergency responders and industry leaders have crunched the data in a new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey. They say a 9.1 quake off Alaska could generate a large tsunami could arrive a few hours later in Southern California, causing major flooding in low-lying areas coastal areas, such as Marina del Rey, Venice, Long Beach and Newport Beach. The study says up to 750,000 people would need to be evacuated, and maybe as many as a million during the summer months when beaches are packed. The cost of such a catastrophe could be as high as $8 billion. L.A. Times

Mural law. The L.A. City Council has formally lifted a decade-long ban on murals in Los Angeles. The 13-2 Council vote allows new murals to be once again painted on private property. There will be restrictions, though, when it comes to murals on single-family residences, depending on the wishes of particular neighborhoods. The ordinance creates a $60 minimum payment for registering new murals and prohibits murals from being used as advertising for products and services. The public art measure now goes to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who’s expected to approve it. City News Service

Safeway settlement. Supermarket giant Safeway will pay $600,000 and has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refrigerator equipment under the terms of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA officials call it the largest ozone protection case ever settled under the Clean Air Act. The federal agency had accused the California-based grocery company of violating pollution laws by not fixing gas leaks in its refrigerators. Safeway, owner of Vons and other chains, did not admit liability. But the company agreed to spend more than $4 million on upgrades to its refrigeration systems. Bloomberg

Behind the camera. So, how are women faring when it comes to off-camera jobs in the TV business? Better, but still not great, according to a new study. Women made up 28 percent of writers, directors and other behind-the-scenes roles on broadcast and cable networks in 2012-2013. San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film says that was up two percent from the previous year. It matches a historical high set six years ago. An earlier study found that the representation of women off-screen in the film business was just 18 percent – basically flat with the previous year. The Wrap