Local Assessments An Option If Statewide Tests Aren’t Available During Pandemic, California Officials Say

April 7, 2021 10:00 am · 9 comments

By Sydney Johnson – EdSource

California education officials have been told verbally that the state may not need to submit a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education, thus opening the door for more flexibility this spring when it comes to standardized testing, as school districts continue to navigate reopening plans during the pandemic.

As vaccinations have ramped up and cases of Covid-19 have declined across the state, many California schools have started bringing back groups of students for in-person instruction. One part of the reopening puzzle recently has been how and when to administer statewide standardized tests, which in February the U.S. Department of Education said would be required.

Last spring, federal and state education officials removed the requirement that states had to test all students in their academic standards using statewide assessments like the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts. But no such waiver was offered in 2021.

In lieu of a blanket waiver, the U.S. Department of Education this year said that states could apply for other ways to potentially ease the burden of testing this school year.

On April 2, State Board of Education President Linda Darling Hammond and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond sent a letter to Ian Rosenblum, the deputy assistant secretary handling this matter, asking for written confirmation of conversations that California would not need a general waiver for it to proceed with its academic testing plan. Ultimately, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona would have to approve the decision.

Also on Friday, State Board of Education officials briefed state legislative aides and others in the education community about the likelihood of districts being able to use alternative assessments this year.

California’s plan would still offer the state’s Smarter Balanced assessments in mathematics and English language arts, the California Science Test, as well as tests for English learners and other special populations.

But in situations where it is not viable for districts to administer those assessments due to challenges such as assuring Covid-19 safety or broadband limitations while students are at home, the policy would also permit school districts to select their own assessments if they met a set of criteria prescribed by the state.

These assessments would have to be aligned with Common Core state standards; be available to assess students in grades 3-8 and 11; be uniformly administered across a grade span, school or district; and provide disaggregated results for parents, educators and the public.

It is not yet clear whether alternatives to the science test would be permitted.

California has already submitted a waiver request for other flexibilities, such as extending the timeline for all tests until July 30 and removing the consequences of having less than 95 percent participation, to the U.S. Department of Education for approval, according to Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education. Because those flexibilities along these lines were suggested by the federal officials in guidance issued on February 22, and have been agreed to in conversations with them, it is likely that the state will receive approval, state officials said.

Darling-Hammond previously headed President Joe Biden’s transition team for education before his inauguration.

Some states, including New York, requested blanket waivers to remove any obligation for standardized testing, but the Biden administration has said no to that.

In March, California’s State Board of Education approved its plan to seek a waiver that would allow districts to choose a diagnostic, benchmark or other interim assessment where it is not viable to administer the state summative assessments and laid out its criteria for alternatives.

And last November, the state board approved a shortened version of the Smarter Balanced math and English language arts tests. Remote proctoring tools were also built into the Smarter Balanced testing system.

The California State Board of Education did not submit a general waiver with the local assessment options because it was told by Secretary Cardona’s office that it would not be necessary given the state still has plans to offer the statewide Smarter Balanced assessments, according to Brooks Allen, executive director of the State Board of Education.

After the U.S. Department of Education responds to the state’s request, California school districts will receive communication from the California Department of Education with more information about what will be accepted, Allen said.

In the meantime, many districts have moved ahead with their own plans for assessing students.
As of March 17, nearly 14,000 English language arts and 8,000 mathematics Smarter Balanced assessments were underway. In addition, 11,000 California Science Tests are underway and 9,200 are completed, according to Mao Vang, director for the Assessment Development and Administration Division at the California Department of Education.

Fresno Unified School District in the Central Valley moved forward with plans to use the Smarter Balanced tests, but keeping its local assessment choice, i-Ready, as a top choice if the Smarter Balanced test isn’t a viable option for the district. The district has already been using i-Ready assessments throughout the pandemic to check in on students and provide academic feedback to parents.

There, administrators were preparing for both the Smarter Balanced test and i-Ready, and Scherrer said they would prefer to use i-Ready because the district has already grown familiar with it in a distance learning setting.

“When Covid hit and we had to close, i-Ready was already in our system, and we were able to pivot to use those diagnostics. That’s been really helpful having a constant temperature check on where students are in both ELA and mathematics,” said Andrew Scherrer, executive director of equity and access at Fresno Unified.

Other districts, including West Contra Costa Unified in the East Bay Area, have been reluctant to move forward with any testing plans while the waiver was still in limbo and cases of Covid-19 in some local communities remained high. Many districts struggled to nail down a plan for assessing students who could be either learning from home or in person.

“Right now we are just focused on the ELPAC (English Language Proficiency Assessments for California), and that is landing with mixed reviews,” Ruben Aurelio, chief academic officer for West Contra Costa Unified, said in early March referring to California’s English language proficiency test for English learners. “We question the validity of the assessments in this environment of course, but we are doing it.”

California school districts won’t be limited to a specific set of tests to choose from, but selected assessments must meet a set of criteria, including being aligned to the state’s academic standards. Results would also have to be made public, regardless of the tests that are used.

About 77 percent of school districts said they used one of five local assessments during the 2020-21 school year already, according to a survey conducted in March by the California Department of Education, which reached 969 districts. Those include Star Assessments by Renaissance, i-Ready by Curriculum Associates, Measures of Academic Progress by NWEA, FastBridge by Illuminate Education and Reading Inventory by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

While many parents, researchers and education advocacy groups have applauded the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to require standardized testing this year, other groups such as the California Teachers Association have pushed back. Many have raised concerns about the validity of data collected after a traumatizing year, and while many students remain in a mix of reopening scenarios.

Allen said he shares concerns that the data could be a misrepresentation if districts use different assessments or participation rate is lower, but overall he was pleased that the state may not require a waiver. But so far, the state has not been asked to provide a measure of comparability between districts, he said.

“When we look at all of this we want to make sure we have meaningful information, valid and reliable information about where students are,” Allen said. “The path that’s been carved forward provides the opportunity to do that.”

Led April 7, 2021 at 11:18 AM

Key paragraph:

“While many parents, researchers and education advocacy groups have applauded the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to require standardized testing this year, other groups such as the California Teachers Association have pushed back. Many have raised concerns about the validity of data collected after a traumatizing year, and while many students remain in a mix of reopening scenarios.”

Translation: people who actually want to know the educational impact of school closures are in favor of continuity of standardized testing. People who want that impact to be obscured are not. The teachers’ unions don’t want hard data that indicates just how much they screwed over the states’ public school students. Anything but that!

parent April 7, 2021 at 12:51 PM

The CTA opposes it .. well, I am for it then.

The CTA opposes teaching children. Opposes being in a classroom. Is for all the new cancel culture.

Yeah, like they have any credibility left ..

Old Timer April 7, 2021 at 11:37 AM

Cut with all this political bull crap.Quit making excuses and get the kids back in school.If the teachers don’t want to go back fire them and hire new ones.I’m sure there are teachers that are willing to take over.What’s wrong with you people.

Original G April 7, 2021 at 1:52 PM

Do some research into who edsource is, those who run it, their background, what their agenda might be and past positions they’ve advocated for.
Might surprise you.

Anonymous April 7, 2021 at 4:47 PM

This is the kind of stuff we’re up against: condescending letters from the Pleasant Hill Baseball Association commissioner. So now we have “COVID Field Marshalls.”

“Hi Coaches, opening day is rapidly approaching.  PHBA is where Every Kid Plays. This is our motto and this is why we are here.  
There are going to be signs throughout the parks regarding the COVID Protocols but a refresher seems to be in order.   
Please take a moment to refamiliarize yourselves with our COVID protocols, especially now the Practice and Game Protocols, on our website www.phba.org   
For the most part you coaches are fantastic and the majority of this applies to the families and fans, but it is important that you too have this understanding as well.  My comments may seem they are directed towards you personally at times in the following, that has more to do with my writing style than anything else.   
Masks.  Coaches need to be wearing masks.  It needs to cover your nose and mouth—”Chin Diapers” are not effective, they look silly and send the wrong message to anyone else that we are saying needs to wear a mask.  They look to their coach as the authority on the field and if you aren’t leading by example then why would they follow any rule that we are saying exists?  Please lead by example and wear your mask properly.  Players need to be wearing their masks as well. (Note the period at the end of the sentence.)  You may have heard something differently, but please rest assured that I am the person you need to hear it from for it to matter. 
If you have a question about when someone should be wearing a mask just let me know.  But here are some sample responses to some hypothetical questions.  On the field? “Players should be wearing a mask.”  Even here? “Yes”  What about here? “Yes.”  But they are running. “Great, wear a mask.”  My position is I want everyone wearing masks.  (again, Every Kid Plays, let’s keep them playing).  What about my catcher?  “Yes, Make it work.”  See how this is going to look?  
Please take a moment to refamiliarize yourselves with our COVID protocols, especially now the Practice and Game Protocols, on our website www.phba.org  (I know, I said this above) 
Masks for Observers. Observers not only need to wear masks, but they need to maintain physical distancing.  Remember back at the beginning of the season during the coaches’ meeting when we discussed a bunch of stuff? I know, it was a while ago and there was a lot said but there is one point I want to highlight in particular.  I gave the same presentation 13 times, so I became familiar with it.  I repeatedly told the coaches that we were doing all this so the kids could get out there and play—Every Kid Plays.  We were going to bend over backwards to put a season together, whether it was a practice only season with built in competition or actual games if we hit the right tiers (this was a long shot at that time).  But we worked hard as a Board to get to that point and I passed that info along to you and let you know that there were going to be added rules and protocols as a result.  And we all said we would work together to make this work.  Given this we between us and the fans weren’t involved.  But weren’t they?  They signed up we put all this info out there. 
Things changed and we are now able to proceed with a season, fantastic news.  But lurking still is a Global Pandemic.  I’ve been walking around reminding people to put on their masks .  I understand there are people out there that: 1. Believe this is all political, 2. Don’t believe masks are effective (or 2% effective), 3.  Say they are immune to the virus, 4. Have health issue, 5.  Or just have good old fashioned political disagreements about wearing masks.  But I don’t care.   
My goal is for kids to play Softball and Baseball.  For them to play ball, then we, the adults, need to play ball.  This means that we need to continue to follow the COVID Protocols that we as a league have laid out.  These were not created because I (Oliver) am “mean”, “cruel”, “evil”, “rotten” or have “hatred in my heart”, or that I “hate the elderly”, despite what families from the Baseball Pioneer A’s and Red Sox may have informed me on Saturday.  No, no.  These were set up so that our kids could play Softball and Baseball and so that our families could come out safely and watch them play—with limitations, socially distanced, wearing masks and no eating sunflower seeds (airborne virus no spitting)  
I know I have mentioned this before but I’m a volunteer here, sure I put in a lot of time but all that I get out of this is the satisfaction that I am helping the community (ok some good pics on MySpace).  And as a volunteer, I’m not looking to be abused by anyone and called names just because I need guidelines followed so that these kids that have been cooped up for a year can be able to play ball uninterrupted.  I do not care about your politics.  Screaming at me in front of my kid because they are upset about wearing masks—and this is preseason.   
Physical Distancing.  Most people have been great about this but as the games begin this is going to be an issue in the stands and people are going to want to sit in the stands.  We want to limit the amount of people in the stands.  If the scrimmages are any indication, then this might become difficult but solvable. It may take having to have people spread out. Individuals need to be sitting 6 feet away from one another.  Again, so far this hasn’t been much of an issue.  
Signs.  Signs are going to be going up around the fields letting the families know about these rules.   
What happens if there are issues?  This is similar to any code of conduct violation for the individual violating the rules.  However, this is not something which will be placed on the umpires for enforcement.  We have COVID Field Marshalls (CFMs) and they will responsible for resolving these matters and helping with the flow of the games.  For instance, if someone refuses to put on a mask the CFM will ask them to put on a mask.  If they comply great.  If they refuse to wear their mask or argue about it then play will be suspended until they leave the premises.  Not walk around the field(s).  If they wish to return to another game in the future both their league commissioner and myself may meet with them as in any disciplinary issue.   
I don’t see this lasting forever, let’s just make an effort to get through this now so Ever Kid Can Play in the meantime. 
Oliver Greenwood 
PHBA Head Commissioner 
You are receiving this message because you are a member of the Pleasant Hill Baseball Association

Led April 7, 2021 at 5:53 PM

Ugh, that’s lame. It doesn’t take much to bring out the petty tyrant in people.

But really the true responsibility for this crud is higher up. There should absolutely be guidance from the CDC, CA public health, etc. that kids should not wear masks while exercising and that outdoor masking in general is *optional*. There is so much evidence that outdoor transmission is rare, it’s just crazy how something that only the most germaphobic would do (mask outdoors when there is no crowding or prolonged close contact) becomes expected and then enforced. Nuts.

parent April 8, 2021 at 5:37 AM

CFM … is that Cubic Feet per Meter, Covid Field Marshal or … Is Oliver a laughing stock in the organization or just on this site? This guy, … If you are a catcher, you have to wear a mask. If you are a centerfielder, wear a mask … really, NO ONE is near you in Center Field, so why do you need to wear a mask? This doe snot even match CDC guidelines!

How does PHBA get a 1000 kids with this little tyrant in charge of ‘his’ little world? Does Martinez Little League have these mandates? Not sure if JOBL is still open, I see games on the weeknights but they look like older kids out there. Their website says they are open … but they look like they are dying.

This ‘dude’ called out two of his teams for calling him names .. if I were on those teams, I would be walking to another league after his little rant in this email. In all honesty, I want to go to Pleasant Hill Park or wherever this league plays and watch some games, without a mask … I don’t have a kid in that league, so what is little Oliver going to do about me?

Anonymous April 8, 2021 at 3:46 PM


Exactly. So he’s going to stop the games if someone disobeys him or a member of his squad? Tough talk from the resident despot. If I’m strolling by with my dog, and happen to stop for a couple of minutes, will one the PHBA minions reprimand me?

Good point about center field. No one for miles around, but wear that mask! Covid has provided petty tyrants with a platform.

remember April 8, 2021 at 7:34 AM

but standard tests are racist, aren’t they going to start giving away diplomas by lottery?

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