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COVID-19: California State PTA Update on State Assessments

Will students have to take state academic tests this spring? That’s the question lots of parents are asking. Here’s a quick update on what’s happening. 

February 22, 2021 – Federal Guidance: 

The Biden Administration issued guidance making it clear that they will provide considerable flexibility in testing but cannot assure the state a general waiver. Federal Guidance

February 22, 2021 – PTA Recommendation:

California State PTA advised the California State Board of Education that it supported postponing the administration of the CAASPP tests until the start of the 2021-22 school year.  Moving the test administration into the start of the 2021-22 school year would address many of the concerns about test validity and participation without completely abandoning this important measure of student progress. The State Board of Education instead recommended extending the test administration to July 30,2021. California State PTA Letter to SBE.

February 24, 2021 – State Board of Education Recommendation:

The State Board of Education voted to seek relief from certain federal testing, accountability, and reporting requirements.  State Board Statement  

These included preparing waiver proposals for federal approval that: 

  • Decouple accountability from this year’s assessments;
  • Waive the requirement that the Academic Achievement indicator (on the California School Dashboard) be adjusted to account for a participation rate below 95 percent;
  • Extend the 2020-21 test administration window for both the CAASPP (English language arts/math assessments) and ELPAC (English Language Proficiency Assessment) to July 30, 2021; and
  • Request a general waiver of the California Science Test for the 2020-21 school year.

March 16, 2021 – State Board of Education Meeting:

The State Board will receive recommendations regarding testing flexibility for local schools. That will include criteria for how, when, and where students take tests and under what circumstances schools can use locally-chosen tests instead of the state test. The board will review the recommendations and decide on the scope of the test waiver request they submit to the US Education Department.

You can watch a webcast of this meeting here.

Background Material: 

California State PTA, consistent with the perspective of our national association, believes that state assessments serve an important purpose, even during this year when traditional schooling has been seriously disrupted. We expressed that opinion in writing to the members of the California State Board of Education (SBE) in advance of their February 24 meeting. A copy of our letter is here

The issues related to statewide assessments during the 2020-21 school year are complex given that schools, students and families are still navigating difficult pressures and choices as a result of the pandemic. 

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) is our state’s response to federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As such, the state not administering the test could only occur if we received a general waiver of federal testing requirements. 

On February 22, the Biden Administration issued guidance making it clear that they will provide considerable flexibility in testing but cannot assure the state a general waiver. At the February 24 SBE meeting both the California Department of Education and the SBE chose to abandon the idea of a general waiver. Instead, along with approval of some specific motions, SBE staff was assigned the task of recommending criteria that could guide flexibility and still require districts to provide some analysis of student progress during the pandemic year. Specifically, the board motion called on them to “to develop a waiver proposal to bring back to the Board that focuses on a plan for assessments that provide data to parents, educators, and the public which monitors the progress of students in ELA/math and that will propose a means for uniform reporting of that data in both aggregated and disaggregated forms.” That recommendation will come before the SBE at its March meeting.

The SBE affirmed its commitment to “provide assessment information this school year to parents, educators and the public” and took other specific actions related to state testing. Those included preparing waiver proposals for federal approval that: 

  • Decouple accountability from this year’s assessments;
  •  Waive the requirement that the Academic Achievement indicator (on the California School Dashboard) be adjusted to account for a participation rate below 95 percent;
  •  Extend the 2020-21 test administration window for both the CAASPP and ELPAC to July 30, 2021; and
  • Request a general waiver of the California Science Test for the 2020-21 school year.

These actions of the SBE are consistent with the PTA concerns we addressed in our letter. Based on the board’s discussion during the meeting, we expect the staff flexibility recommendations at the March SBE meeting to discourage the testing of students in remote settings, emphasize that students should not return to schools in person just for the purpose of testing, and that standardized tests should not be administered for several weeks after students do return for regular instruction. There was also considerable board discussion regarding enabling school districts to use other local assessments, instead of the CAASPP tests, to evaluate and report on student progress.