State tries to find ‘balance’ in state testing this spring

Board of Education approves shorter Smarter Balanced assessment testing next spring following academic year of COVID-19 uncertainties

SACRAMENTO —State standardized tests will be shorter this spring as California tries to balance the need for evaluating student progress with flexibility for students struggling to learn in a virtual environment.

On Nov. 6, the state’s Board of Education unanimously approved the use of shorter tests in English language arts and math for spring 2021 Smarter Balanced assessment. The Board’s action satisfies federal requirements but also recognizes the need for innovative solutions to support students, schools, and districts as they confront myriad challenges associated with the pandemic.

“Our schools and educators need flexibility, options, and ongoing support as they continue to navigate tremendous challenges and collect data across multiple measures to fully understand student learning,” state superintendent Tony Thurmond said.

Like other states, California is required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to assess student learning as a condition of receiving certain federal funds. In a letter to state education chiefs, the U.S. Department of Education indicated they would not currently consider a waiver and that states should prepare to administer tests in the spring.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment System utilizes computer-based tests and performance tasks that allow students to show what they know and are able to do. The state board’s approval of shorter Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math for grades 3 to 8 and 11 reflects California’s commitment to supporting schools by providing testing options.

The shorter assessments will reduce student testing time, which now takes from seven to eight hours in total. Guidance regarding test administration will include flexible options to meet the unique contexts of each district or school.

The tests will cover all academic standards, which describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Spring testing will provide the first statewide snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.

“Because we have been supporting and encouraging districts to use formative and diagnostic assessments this fall, schools will have data to guide individual student learning. Meanwhile, a shorter summative test can provide a more manageable way to offer district and state-level information in these unpredictable times,” said state board president Linda Darling-Hammond.

Now that the shorter tests are approved, CDE will work closely with districts and charter schools to strategize test administration, ensure student participation, and communicate with families.

This spring will be the sixth year of testing based on the Common Core state standards. The Smarter Balanced tests form part of the state’s California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP. Student scores are categorized in four achievement levels that indicate whether a student has exceeded, met, nearly met, or did not meet the standards, in grades 3 to 8 and 11.

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