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SACRAMENTO March 16, 2021 – The State Board of Education today voted to give California school districts the opportunity to use either state tests or other standards-aligned assessments to gauge student learning this spring.
The vote builds on last month’s Board action to apply for the maximum flexibility offered by the U.S. Department of Education in testing, accountability, and reporting requirements and to seek further options that account for the impact of COVID-19 on educators, families, and schools.
The Board is seeking to allow districts to use the best assessment tool available for the local context this spring, as many of them are still providing distance learning and working to reopen schools. Options include the state’s Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments and California Alternate Assessments for English language arts and mathematics, the Smarter Balanced interim assessments, or other diagnostic, benchmark, or interim assessments that:
- Are aligned with California Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math.
- Are available to assess students in grades 3-8 and 11.
- Are uniformly administered across a grade span, school, or district.
- Provide results that can be reported to parents/guardians, educators about individual students, and to the public by school and by district and are disaggregated by student group.
“While school reopening momentum is growing and we expect many more students to return to class this spring, we realize that many more may still be learning remotely either some days or every day,” said State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond. “The Board’s action today, coupled with our previous request for flexibility, will give local educators and state policymakers important data on student progress while recognizing the realities of a very challenging year.”
Diagnostic and interim/benchmark assessments help teachers identify student learning gaps and progress and adjust instruction throughout the year. As a condition of funding this year, districts were required to use such assessments and identify them in their learning continuity plans filed last fall. A California Department of Education survey of schools and districts showed that the majority of districts use a diagnostic or interim test that would qualify with the parameters delineated by the Board.
Giving districts the opportunity to use local diagnostic or interim tests to meet state and federal expectations for assessment and reporting purposes will help lessen concerns about students participating in extensive testing before they have a chance to re-adjust to in-person learning.
This additional flexibility would expand on California’s previous federal flexibility request which would:
- Decouple state assessments from federal accountability requirements, as applicable. Instead, any data collected would be used to inform local educators and parents and align resources to student supports.
- Waive federal penalties for student testing participation rates of less than 95 percent on the state’s Smarter Balanced English language arts and math assessments.
- Extend the window by which schools must complete test administration to July 30 for the English Language Assessments for California (ELPAC), which measures English learners’ progress toward language proficiency, and for the Smarter Balanced assessments, as applicable.
- Waive administration of the state’s science tests altogether for 2021.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, all states that receive federal funds for low-income students and English learners must assess annual learning progress in math, language arts, science, and English learner language proficiency, as applicable.
Last year, the federal government granted blanket waivers permitting states to opt-out of annual testing altogether. However, a federal state assessment compliance template released March 8 closed the door on that option for this year.
At its November 2020 meeting, the State Board approved shortened blueprints of the Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math in order to administer shorter tests in these subjects.
In addition, federal guidance allows remote administration of all tests. California has permitted remote testing since last August.
With many students only beginning to return to in-person instruction, Board members emphasized—as the Federal guidance states—that students should not be brought back to in-person instruction solely for the purpose of standardized testing.
“While there are benefits to providing a snapshot look at how our students have been affected academically by the pandemic, we all know that the social-emotional health of our students and their reattachment to a caring school environment must come first,” said President Darling-Hammond. “Helping our students cope with a painful year and feel supported in their learning remains our top priority.”