California granted some assessment flexibility

The U.S. Department of Education on April 6 granted California’s waiver requests regarding accountability, school identification and related reporting requirements for the 2020–21 school year. The Education Department advised in a separate letter to the state that it does not need to submit a waiver application to use alternate local assessments, which may only be used “where the State concludes it is not viable to administer the assessment because of the pandemic.”

A footnote to the letter states that “viability refers to the ability to administer the statewide summative assessment given a district’s specific circumstances in the context of the pandemic. It does not provide an opportunity for States or school districts to choose to administer local assessments in place of the statewide summative assessment.”

As of this writing, it is not clear what factors will determine if a local educational agency’s administration of the summative assessments is “not viable,” though the level of in-person instruction is likely to be a consideration. CSBA will update members as further clarification is made available from the California Department of Education.

Approved waiver

As part of the approved waiver, California agrees to the following conditions:

  • Make publicly available chronic absenteeism data, either as defined in the state’s School Quality or Student Success indicator, if applicable, or EDFacts, disaggregated to the extent such data are available by the subgroups in ESEA section 1111(c)(2), on state and local report cards (or in another publicly available location).
  • Make publicly available data on student and/or teacher access to technology devices and high-speed internet, disaggregated by the subgroups in ESEA section 1111(c)(2), to the extent such data are collected at the state or LEA level.
  • Any school that is identified for comprehensive, targeted, or additional targeted support and improvement in the 2019–20 school year (i.e., any school that was in that status as of the 2019–20 school year), except for comprehensive support and improvement schools identified based on low graduation rates that meet the state’s exit criteria, will maintain that identification status in the 2021–22 school year, implement its support and improvement plan, and receive appropriate supports and interventions.
  • The state will identify comprehensive, targeted, and additional targeted support and improvement schools using data from the 2021–22 school year in the fall of 2022 to ensure school identification resumes as quickly as possible.

The letter emphasizes that students should not be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test in areas where students are unable to attend school safely in person due to the pandemic.

In cases where the statewide summative assessment cannot be administered, the Education Department letter says that states and districts may use other assessments to measure student learning and progress and to provide information to parents and educators. “These interim, diagnostic, or formative assessments do not replace statewide summative assessments, 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.”

The letter concludes with a reminder that it is critically important that parents, educators and the public have access to data on student learning and success. The department urges states to provide clear context with the data, including its limitations due to the disruptions of the pandemic.