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States must resume their annual standardized tests this spring, the Biden administration confirmed on Monday. While the tests will be required, the U.S. Department of Education is allowing for new flexible options such as shortening tests, extending the testing window and remote administration.

“State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity. At the same time, it is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant education secretary, said in a letter to state education leaders.

States are required to administer annual tests in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the U.S. Department of Education waived federal testing requirements after schools closed for in-person instruction in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Until Monday, it’s been unclear exactly where the new administration stands and whether they would offer testing waivers as many school districts continue to operate with distance learning.

The federal guidance applies to the state’s standardized tests in math, English language arts and science. The guidance will also allow states to request waivers that could relieve some reporting requirements, including one that states at least 95% of students must take the tests.

As incoming Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has not officially been confirmed as secretary, some education experts were surprised by the guidance issued Monday. But the announcement comes after school districts across the country were pressing for answers and clarifications about how or if they will need to administer standardized tests this year. In California, the state’s top education official expressed disappointment in the announcement.

“Our students, families and educators have experienced extraordinary trauma this past year. As our classrooms continue to slowly welcome students back to campuses, we must resist the urge to rush into stressful high-stakes testing, when in fact our students will be in a better position to learn if we first prioritize positive connections, relationships and their mental health and wellbeing,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said Tuesday.

Thurmond said that he also recognizes the need to measure the impacts of distance learning and will pursue options to delay the assessments until later this year.

Now, school districts across California must gear up to test more than 6 million students, the majority of which are still in some form of remote instruction, according to recent data from the California Department of Public Health.

“You need this kind of data in order to know where your students are and where they’re going and where to put your resources. If you miss a whole other year of having targeted info to help determine priorities of their own school districts and buildings, you won’t have that insight,” said Doug McRae, a retired educational measurement specialist who oversaw the design and development of K-12 tests widely used across the United States.

But many parents and teachers are concerned about the reliability of the data, and the impact of high-stakes testing on students and teachers living through an exceptionally traumatic school year.

“Given that the majority of students and educators across the state are still engaged in distance learning, the predominant mode of testing would have to be remote. For reasons outlined by the CDE staff, the logistical demands of remote testing will be nearly impossible to meet,” said E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, in a letter sent to the State Board of Education on Feb. 19.

The CTA also presented a petition seeking a waiver from standardized testing during the pandemic, which so far has gathered more than 46,000 signatures from California teachers and parents.

The majority of members of the State Board of Education said at a January meeting they were in favor of a waiver, and education officials in several other states have similarly pushed for alternatives to this year’s tests.

The state board did not vote on the issue of waivers at the meeting in January, 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.

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.

In November, the state board approved plans to adopt a modified and shortened version of the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts. So far, the board has said it will not shorten the California Science Test for the 2021 testing period because it is already shorter than the other two major tests.

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  1. Allie Llorada 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a student I feel that this year has been so stressful and we shouldn’t have to take this state test until the last month of school. We missed a lot of learning so we aren’t all prepared.

  2. shaktidave@hotmail.com 2 months ago2 months ago

    Eventually, our understanding of education will evolve to the point wherein we recognize these standardized assessments are useless for evaluating both schools and its students. They are the results of bad educators who are “good” politicians. Or politicians pretending to understand education. On a year like this, why would they implement and waste taxpayers dollars? I think it’s unfortunate.

  3. Malissa Esquibel 2 months ago2 months ago

    We don't use the standardized testing to inform instruction. We don't get the results until far too late to inform much instruction. One day in the life of a student is not a valid way to measure the student's achievement. Teachers have many formative assessments and districts already have benchmarks and diagnostic tests that show growth or lack thereof. Standardized yearly testing in this environment is not conducive to student's … Read More

    We don’t use the standardized testing to inform instruction. We don’t get the results until far too late to inform much instruction. One day in the life of a student is not a valid way to measure the student’s achievement. Teachers have many formative assessments and districts already have benchmarks and diagnostic tests that show growth or lack thereof.

    Standardized yearly testing in this environment is not conducive to student’s emotional wellbeing. If you were in the classroom and see what is required for students at home to even log in to the CAASPP, you would understand the udder ridiculousness of attempting to take these assessments in this environment.

    Replies

    • Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

      State tests are summative assessments and are not designed to provide direct feedback to teachers or students. The primary purpose of state and national tests is to let teachers, district leaders, and the community know how students are performing on valid and reliable assessments aligned with the state state standards. Accountability. The results should be used to inform professional practices and curricula not as diagnostic feedback for students. School districts and schools do not have strong … Read More

      State tests are summative assessments and are not designed to provide direct feedback to teachers or students. The primary purpose of state and national tests is to let teachers, district leaders, and the community know how students are performing on valid and reliable assessments aligned with the state state standards. Accountability. The results should be used to inform professional practices and curricula not as diagnostic feedback for students.

      School districts and schools do not have strong internal accountability systems and thus fall prey to Campbell’s Law: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

      The community has a right to have access to and understand student academic achievement overall and by subgroup over time. With fewer than half of third graders proficient in reading, there might be a tiny incentive to transform teaching and learning of reading.

      That is how it is supposed to work but it is too easy for the leaders to deflect responsibility and blame the victims, the parents, poverty, yada yada yada.

  4. T. Weller-Curtner 2 months ago2 months ago

    "So far, the board has said it will not shorten the California Science Test for the 2021 testing period because it is already shorter than the other two major tests." Please Ms. Johnson do not let this erroneous statement take hold. The CAST is a new next-generation test that expands in the quantity of questions asked based a student's performance during the test. I have watched students start with 25 questions and wind up … Read More

    “So far, the board has said it will not shorten the California Science Test for the 2021 testing period because it is already shorter than the other two major tests.”
    Please Ms. Johnson do not let this erroneous statement take hold. The CAST is a new next-generation test that expands in the quantity of questions asked based a student’s performance during the test. I have watched students start with 25 questions and wind up with 75 on the first day of the CAST.

  5. Doug McRae 2 months ago2 months ago

    To expand on my comment in the post, the ED guidance letter dated Feb 22 suggested that expanding test administration windows for the spring 2021 main statewide tests to Sept/Oct 2021 would allow local districts time to administer shortened tests after the majority of districts have re-opened and have the required in-person attendance to permit valid and reliable test results. Taking advantage of this flexibility offer by ED would erase the problems associated with remote … Read More

    To expand on my comment in the post, the ED guidance letter dated Feb 22 suggested that expanding test administration windows for the spring 2021 main statewide tests to Sept/Oct 2021 would allow local districts time to administer shortened tests after the majority of districts have re-opened and have the required in-person attendance to permit valid and reliable test results. Taking advantage of this flexibility offer by ED would erase the problems associated with remote testing modes, the primary argument advanced by folks advocating for a blanket ED waiver for all spring 2021 statewide tests.

    Replies

    • Zak Haviland 2 months ago2 months ago

      Jeez Doug - expanding the window will erase the problems? Are we going to set up a remote monitoring system to ensure that students are not receiving any sort of help during the test? The negatives of expense, time, and trying to compare scores of students who testing across multiple months far outweigh any benefit that we in the schools would get from seeing these scores. Let's call this what it is … Read More

      Jeez Doug – expanding the window will erase the problems? Are we going to set up a remote monitoring system to ensure that students are not receiving any sort of help during the test? The negatives of expense, time, and trying to compare scores of students who testing across multiple months far outweigh any benefit that we in the schools would get from seeing these scores.

      Let’s call this what it is – gathering flawed data to support funding the large companies that produce the tests (who will also probably be the ones to receive additional funding set up the “secure” remote testing). I’m extremely disappointed in the Biden administration on this one. Ugh.

      • Doug McRae 2 months ago2 months ago

        Reply to Zak Haviland: I think you have misread or misunderstood the first sentence of my comment above. The first sentence expresses my view that CA should not do "remote" test administrations at all, rather expand the testing window to Sept/Oct 2021 to allow for in-person at-school test administrations as soon each district opens for full in-person instruction. It would be good K-12 large scale testing practice not to administer tests the first … Read More

        Reply to Zak Haviland: I think you have misread or misunderstood the first sentence of my comment above. The first sentence expresses my view that CA should not do “remote” test administrations at all, rather expand the testing window to Sept/Oct 2021 to allow for in-person at-school test administrations as soon each district opens for full in-person instruction. It would be good K-12 large scale testing practice not to administer tests the first 2-3 weeks of full in-person instruction (i.e., no hybrid models) for each grade level to be tested.

        Re your second sentence focused on the large companies providing summative tests and testing services to states, charging more for remote test administration involving additional costs would be legitimate pricing practice. However, doing additional remote testing is not in the cards, per the State Board meeting yesterday (Feb 24). Charging exorbitant fees for changing in-person in-school test administrations in Sept/Oct vs May/June would be an extreme problem.

        At the Feb 24 board meeting, the CDE indicated ETS estimated implementing an extended test administration window to Sept/Oct would involve an additional cost of $74 million (Slide 48 of the CDE staff presentation). There may be some additional costs for extending the testing window until in-person at-school test administrations can be completed, but an estimate of $74 million over and above the CAASPP full year all-tasks ETS contract of $77 million for 2020-21 services is absurdly high and demands further explanation.

  6. JudiAU 2 months ago2 months ago

    As a parent, I’m glad that will testing will continue. We need this information, not that I expect it to be pretty. I wished CA public schools also used NWEA tests. It provides much more information.

  7. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

    A brilliant decision. He is rejecting the farcical Trump siren call of Stop the Testing.

    Just like with Covid-19 we need to know the breadth and depth of the academic achievement loss and in which subgroups the loss was greatest!

    Let’s not rage against the thermometers,

    More in my book, The Fog of Education. Scroll down at the website to access the book link.

    http://sipbigpicture.com

    Replies

    • Teacher 2 months ago2 months ago

      Unions are against standardized testing this year. Are you in the classroom? Are you in the trenches? We teachers are working hard to help students. Many students are failing during this time, for various reasons. We all know that the scores may be much lower. I think testing would show the learning loss, but at the same time we teachers are judged by scores This is a difficult year for … Read More

      Unions are against standardized testing this year. Are you in the classroom? Are you in the trenches? We teachers are working hard to help students. Many students are failing during this time, for various reasons. We all know that the scores may be much lower. I think testing would show the learning loss, but at the same time we teachers are judged by scores This is a difficult year for both students and teachers. Please do not let what you think of Trump fog your view of what is right.

      • Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

        It is a logical fallacy to engage in an ad hominem attack on me that somehow I am not in the trenches. To the point though, I was an outstanding middle school science teacher for many years. I did a lot of teaching as an adminisrator as well. Most definitely, teachers will not be held accountable for low test scores. Low test scores will be attributed to the pandemic. There is no accountability in California as … Read More

        It is a logical fallacy to engage in an ad hominem attack on me that somehow I am not in the trenches. To the point though, I was an outstanding middle school science teacher for many years. I did a lot of teaching as an adminisrator as well.

        Most definitely, teachers will not be held accountable for low test scores. Low test scores will be attributed to the pandemic.

        There is no accountability in California as accountability is so 1898. So no need to worry.

        However, it will be important to understand the depth and breadth of student achievement loss overall and by subgroup so that these losses can be addressed.

        K-12 education needs to become more like science and less like alchemy.

        It is time that educators in California put on their big boy pants and recognize that reality.

        Our children and families deserve it.

    • Joe 2 months ago2 months ago

      Didn’t you make an ad hominem attack on teachers by telling them to “put their big boy pants on”? I do agree with the previous response.

      • Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

        Hi Joe,

        Thanks so much for your comment. I was not making an attack on any individual or specific group with my statement. I was suggesting in a creative way that all educator need to begin looking in the mirror and start addressing big systemic gaps in professional practices, curicula, and assessments rather than continue to engage in the worn out trope of blaming the victims.

        I apologize if I offended you or teachers. It was not intended as such.

    • Greg 2 months ago2 months ago

      Dr. Conrad,
      I am disappointed in the way you responded to a reader’s comment. A man such as yourself with almost 50 years of exprerience should respond to dissenting views in a more respectful manner. It seems as if you never faced opposing views.