Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Arange of new education laws signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown will affect the way Mother Lode schools operate in coming years.

One new law changes the relative importance of standardized tests in calculating a school's Academic Performance Index, a measure used for comparison with other schools.

Another clarifies the timeline for rolling out the new Common Core State Standards, guidelines for curriculum that will modify what's taught in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Under existing California law, a school's Academic Performance Index has been determined by graduation rates and how well its students do on standardized tests.

The newly signed Senate Bill 1458 by Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, requires that standardized tests make up no more than 60 percent of a high school's API calculation by 2016.

Other parts of a high school's API score may factor in the time students take to graduate, technical skills and readiness for college-level work.

The exact combination of factors will be determined by the state school superintendent and adopted by the State Board of Education. The formula for elementary and middle school APIs will stay the same.

Tuolumne County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin said SB 1458 "opens the discussion" about APIs.

"For a lot of schools, that's a really important discussion," she said.

Another new law, SB 1200, requires that the state Board of Education finish revising Common Core mathematics and science standards by the end of March.

That should allow publishing companies to supply schools with the new instructional materials they need for Common Core in 2014, according to Bulkin.

Previously, educators were worried that students would have to take the new Smarter Balanced Assessments without having access to updated textbooks.

SB 1200 also scales back the requirement that eighth-graders learn algebra, which has been the subject of debate among state and local educators.

But under the new standards that California is adopting along with 44 other states, students will learn some elements of algebra and other key math concepts at a younger age.

Math at the high school level will be more integrated, rather than separated into topics like algebra and geometry. Science will incorporate language arts by having students keep science journals.

Students will begin the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which incorporate the new standards and make better use of technology, in 2015.

SB 1200 simply "cleans up" the timeline for putting the new math and science standards in place, Bulkin said.

According to Bulkin, another law in the pipeline would make sure severely disabled students can still graduate without taking the California High School Exit Exam, or CAHSEE.

The current provision giving some special education students waivers from the CAHSEE will end in January 2013.

Bulkin said the California Department of Education has been working on alternative assessments for special education students, but the process will take longer than expected.

Without other provisions, severely disabled students could theoretically be kept from graduating unless they passed the CAHSEE.

Under current law, special education students still need to attempt the CAHSEE and satisfy all other graduation requirements.