U.S. Department of Education grants waiver for California schools to avoid penalties for non-participation in state testing
SACRAMENTO —Tulare County students will begin state testing next month, but it won’t be mandatory and it won’t count against them or their schools.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education notified California it had granted its request for relief from certain federal testing, accountability, and reporting requirements has been granted.
“The intent of these accountability waivers is to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports,” deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs Ian Rosenblum wrote. “This is particularly crucial this year, due to the COVID pandemic.”
In February, the State Board of Education voted to seek a waiver that would give schools the means to account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their ability to assess students. The Board’s action was in response to federal guidance allowing states to seek flexibility given that most students, as of February, have yet to return to in-person instruction either part- or full-time.
The state also discussed its plan to give schools permission to report data from standards-aligned interim or diagnostic tests they have been using where it is not viable to administer the state summative assessments due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The waiver allows California to decouple state assessments from federal testing requirements, meaning the data from the tests will only be used to inform local educators, parents, and the public and identify trends in areas requiring student supports. For example, the Department of Education issues federal penalties for districts with participation rates of less than 95% on the state’s assessments in English language arts and math for any district receiving federal funds for low-income students and English learners. Under the waiver, there are no penalties for low participation rates.
“We remain committed to supporting all States in assessing the learning of all students,” Rosenblum wrote. “Obtaining data on student learning includes high-quality statewide assessments, which can help identify where opportunity gaps are persistent and have been exacerbated—particularly during the pandemic—and, along with other data, can help States direct resources and support to close those gaps.”
This allowed districts to give students the option of not taking the test. Those who take the test will also be taking an abbreviated version of the Smarter Balanced assessment tests, which the State Board approved in November. The Board also extended the window by which schools must complete test administration to July 30 for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which tests proficiency in ELA and math for grades 3 to 8 and high school juniors, the English Language Assessments for California (ELPAC), which measures English learners’ progress toward language proficiency, and the California Science Test (CAST).
With many of the state’s students still engaged in distance learning, both CDE and state board staff have advised districts—as the federal guidance states—that students should not be brought back to in-person instruction solely for the purpose of standardized testing.
And in some cases, students still in remote learning may not be able to access the state’s summative tests because they lack secure browsers on their computers or sufficient bandwidth to meet the demands of the tests. In such a case, student assessment data could be provided through a high-quality interim or diagnostic test that meets Board-approved criteria. Local districts will use formative testing, such as i-Ready and STAR, during the normal instruction day to gauge each student’s academic progress.
“We must also recognize that we are in the midst of a pandemic that requires real flexibility…(I)n cases where students are unable to take the statewide summative assessment, we hope that States and districts use other assessments to measure student learning and progress and to provide information to parents and educators,” Rosenblum wrote.