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California State Board of Education members on Wednesday expressed support for efforts to see a statewide waiver for standardized testing in 2021.

As Covid-19 cases continue to soar in California, a majority of the State Board of Education is now in favor of pursuing a waiver from the federal government that would remove the obligation to carry out standardized testing for the second year in a row.

The board is grappling with what to do about standardized tests like the Smarter Balanced assessments in math and English language arts that students in certain grades are required to take each spring. The U.S. Department of Education waived federal testing requirements following abrupt school closures for in-person instruction in March 2020 due to the pandemic, but this school year, the department intends to resume requiring testing. Now, as California faces the largest daily number of cases it’s experienced yet, State Board of Education members say they want a testing waiver to be made available for states.

“It would be educational malpractice to require LEAs (local education agencies) to provide results of assessments that really are seriously in jeopardy of being valid going forward,” said State Board of Education member Sue Burr, during a public meeting on Wednesday. “It’s important to make a strong statement about how we feel about that.”

The state board did not vote on the issue of waivers at the meeting on Wednesday, but it was discussed at length and nine out of 11 members said they would support a waiver if it became an option. Board President Linda Darling-Hammond did not publicly share a specific stance on Wednesday. However, a report she authored in October expressed the need for schools during the pandemic to avoid “overtesting” and emphasize shorter, more frequent assessments that teachers can quickly use to inform instruction, known as formative assessments, over high-level end-of-the-year exams that are primarily used for holding districts accountable for learning, known as summative assessments.

The board did not discuss next steps for seeking a waiver from the annual tests, which is also required by California state law. Gov. Gavin Newsom would also need to waive state requirements for the standardized tests in math, English language arts and science, which he did through an executive order in 2020.

Darling-Hammond, who is a top education advisor on the transition team for President-elect Joe Biden, said that alternative measures of academic progress and accountability, such as engagement, attendance, and access to courses, have “come up quite a bit” in discussions with the team.

States are required to administer an annual test in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In November, following an announcement from the U.S Department of Education that testing would again be required, the board voted to shorten this year’s Smarter Balanced exams in math and English language arts in an effort to mitigate challenges with administering the test at a time when a majority of schools in the state are still in distance learning.

But Covid-19 cases and deaths have continued to climb in the winter months, causing nearly every board member to express deep concern over potentially bringing students back to campus to administer tests, along with the reliability of scores and data given the amount of variables students would face taking tests at home.

“In L.A. County right now, every minute 10 people are identified as positive,” said Vice President Ilene W. Straus. “It’s not likely we are going back anytime soon until these numbers go down and things are safe for students and teachers. Once we are back to in-person learning, first reconnect with them, and then think about assessment.”

Another major concern is getting enough students to participate in the exam during the pandemic. States are expected to have at least 95% of students take the exam, a threshold Straus called “completely unrealistic” for this spring.

“There are a lot of parents that won’t be willing to add (testing) to the stress level,” board member Matt Navo added.

The likelihood of incoming Education Secretary Miguel Cordona offering waivers once he replaces former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos remains unclear.

“We cannot act on anything that has to do with waivers at this moment,” Darling-Hammond said. “We need to wait for the new administration to arrive.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, several other ideas were discussed in lieu of a waiver. Darling-Hammond suggested extending the school year to offer districts more time to prepare for the tests, while others proposed moving tests to next fall or leaning on interim assessments that districts could lead themselves, similar to what took place in the years between the start of Smarter Balanced tests in 2015 and the phasing out of the previous standardized tests.

While many were in support of putting pressure on the federal government to change its decision about waivers this school year, several board members agreed that there would still be a need to assess students and measure learning loss and disparities that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Testing offers a much clearer view of the degree to which learning loss is not consistent and to know where it is most acute and have the capacity to pinpoint that and address it is a valuable tool we should not give up on,” said board member Kim Pattillo Brownson.

Pattillo Brownson also referred to data that has shown many California parents desire more feedback on how their child is doing academically. Sixty-seven percent of parents said they would like information from state tests to know if their child is meeting grade-level expectations, according to a poll education nonprofit EdTrust-West released in October.

But, the same poll also found that a lack of reliable internet was a top concern among families, a major challenge for administering the tests at home. With Covid-19 cases at an all-time high in California, several groups present at Wednesday’s meeting said inviting students with poor internet connections back to campus for tests could be a safety risk.

For months the California Teachers Association has been outspoken about the challenges of requiring standardized testing in the spring, even with a shortened exam. CTA representatives on Wednesday echoed the requests for the state board to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

“As of this morning, Imperial County, where I am seated, has a 39% Covid positivity rate” said board member Haydee Rodriguez. “It’s having a devastating effect on our students, their social-emotional well-being, and teachers have reached out to me with concerns about the test and the effect it would have on our students. I am in support of a waiver. If we don’t get the waiver, we must ensure the results of the assessment are used for information perhaps to direct funding, so we can support our students when we go back to class.”

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  1. Reggie 6 months ago6 months ago

    I am a public middle school teacher and it is my unpopular opinion that testing should still be required, even if we know the results are going to be bad. We need to see how bad, and which specific areas are especially deficient. Testing is required for publics and charters because they receive public money and are accountable to the public. Private schools don't have to obviously because they are not taking public money, and yet … Read More

    I am a public middle school teacher and it is my unpopular opinion that testing should still be required, even if we know the results are going to be bad. We need to see how bad, and which specific areas are especially deficient.

    Testing is required for publics and charters because they receive public money and are accountable to the public. Private schools don’t have to obviously because they are not taking public money, and yet many if not most privates do administer some kind of test. It’s a really bad look when publics won’t test because they don’t want the public to see how much distance learning has failed our kids. We need to see.

  2. Diego_Dad 9 months ago9 months ago

    They need to cancel the testing because they don’t want the world to know how little our children learned this year.

  3. Bea 9 months ago9 months ago

    I agree with the suspension of all standardized tests. The English Language Proficiency Assessments for California -ELPAC- should be added to the waiver, if it is not already. It is ridiculous to add extra stress to one of the most vulnerable group of students, many of whom are dealing with Covdid-19 health issues and deaths within their own families.

  4. JACK 9 months ago9 months ago

    This seems a no-brainer in the current context of the pandemic and widespread distance learning. Now that the federal education department is devoid of DeVos (sorry, could not resist), a waiver seems a reasonable request and likely granted. Implementation issues abound in the current climate and clearly it would be nearly impossible to standardize testing conditions to give any credence to the results. For once, let's just try a bit of common sense … Read More

    This seems a no-brainer in the current context of the pandemic and widespread distance learning. Now that the federal education department is devoid of DeVos (sorry, could not resist), a waiver seems a reasonable request and likely granted. Implementation issues abound in the current climate and clearly it would be nearly impossible to standardize testing conditions to give any credence to the results. For once, let’s just try a bit of common sense and trust professional judgment. School staff and parents have enough on their plates to feast on. Adding a helping of questionable testing just seems ludicrous.

  5. Teacher 9 months ago9 months ago

    ? Just suspend through rest of school year. Why is this even an issue and why has it not already happened? Busy teaching, testing is useless in this environment and just another issue that is taking away from learning and teaching.

  6. Dr. Bill Conrad 9 months ago9 months ago

    Our assessment illiteracy is showing. Jim Popham, emeritus professor from UCLA, once gave a luncheon talk to an august group of psychometricians. He told them that they would be going to hell because of their assessment work within the K-12 education community and their inability or unwillingness to clearly explain the appropriate uses of assessments. The spew of egg salad from the mouths of the psychometricians was truly a sight to see. Summative assessment-like state tests should … Read More

    Our assessment illiteracy is showing.

    Jim Popham, emeritus professor from UCLA, once gave a luncheon talk to an august group of psychometricians. He told them that they would be going to hell because of their assessment work within the K-12 education community and their inability or unwillingness to clearly explain the appropriate uses of assessments.

    The spew of egg salad from the mouths of the psychometricians was truly a sight to see.

    Summative assessment-like state tests should not be used in a formative way at the student level. The assessments do not include enough items that align with the specific learning targets to be used in either a diagnostic or summative way for individual students. These summative assessments can provide good information at the district, county, or state levels but not the individual student level.

    State tests can provide good information about large group performance and how standards are being achieved. They provide a snapshot of performance and the information can be used to gauge adult performance in helping large groups of students achieve standards as the results from individual students can be aggregated to show performance in valid and reliable ways.

    They are not to be used diagnostically or summatively for individual students and that is why psychometricians are currently on the precipice of hell.

    By now, we should know better.

    Let’s not fall into the Trumpian trap of “Stop the Testing!”