U.S. Department of Education approves California’s school assessment plan

The U.S. Department of Education will allow California to temporarily decouple state assessments from federal testing and accountability requirements, granting school districts some added relief in year two of the pandemic.

Unlike last year, federal officials did not allow states to opt out of annual testing altogether in 2021, but they did invite states to seek extra flexibility.

California Department of Education logoCalifornia’s waiver essentially disconnects state tests from federal accountability requirements. Students will still be assessed, but any data collected will be used to align resources with instructional supports and to inform local stakeholders.

The waiver also eliminates penalties for testing less than 95 percent of students on the state’s Smarter Balanced assessments for English and math.

“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,” Ian Rosenblum, the U.S. Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs, wrote in a letter to State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond. “This is particularly crucial this year, due to the COVID pandemic.”

Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states that receive federal dollars for low-income students and English learners must assess annual learning progress in math, language arts, science and English learner language proficiency.

But many students are still in distance learning, and the California Department of Education and the state board have advised districts that students should not be brought back to their campuses just to take standardized tests.

At the same time, taking these tests at home isn’t always possible because some students lack secure browsers on their computers or sufficient bandwidth. In those instances, the state says student assessment data can be provided through another high-quality interim or diagnostic test that meets board-approved criteria.

“These interim, diagnostic, or formative assessments do not replace statewide summative assessments,” Rosenblum wrote, “but they can serve to provide valuable information to meet our goal of maximizing the number of students for whom we have quality data this year.”