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By Julian Peeples

CTA is amplifying the call to suspend standardized assessments this year, submitting letters to state and federal officials questioning the feasibility of test administration, usability of the data, and the cruelty of forcing students through a high-stakes assessment in the middle of a global health crisis.

More than 38,000 educators and counting have signed CTA’s petition calling for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) to be suspended this year to avoid perpetuating the vast inequities and mental and emotional stresses already occurring in our state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In letters to be sent Monday to the State Board of Education (SBE) and U.S. Department of Education (DOE), CTA President E. Toby Boyd said standardized tests will negatively impact students and be of little use to schools.

“Our concerns with testing during a pandemic have not changed,” Boyd said. “The stress and loss of teaching time while trying to run intensive, high-stakes assessments remotely will severely outweigh any chance of receiving data that is useful for students, educators, families or the state.”

CTA’s continued call for the testing waiver comes as a new administration takes the reins at the federal level. Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona is expected to take a far more collaborative and supportive approach to public education than his predecessor, Betsy DeVos. Educators are hopeful this extends to suspending standardized testing, which wastes federal funding and precious time for student learning, both in scarce supply lately.

“Fiscal, equity and access gaps have been exacerbated by the pandemic; you don’t need more tests to tell you that hard truth,” NEA President Becky Pringle said of the assessments. “Any resulting scores or metrics will be useless for educators and school leaders who are trying to make critical instructional and curricular decisions now.”

Testing Administration is Not Feasible

Administration of the tests this year would be tedious and for little benefit. Since they weren’t designed to be to be administered away from the school site in a remote environment, doing so would pose a number of challenges including issues with bandwidth and internet access, the lack of local resources to install secure browsers on devices used by students in remote environments, and inconsistent remote testing environments for students. With the bulk of California students still attending school in distance learning, the logistical demands of remote testing will be nearly impossible to meet.

“Conducting standardized testing in spring would be detrimental to students and of limited use to teachers, schools and school districts,” Boyd said. “The truth is that forcing students to complete and educators to administer tests that weren’t developed for a distance learning environment serves no real useful purpose.”

 

Assessment Data Will Be Unusable

Due to the concerns about the feasibility of administering the assessments, there are legitimate questions about the use of data gathered from testing taken under unknown and uncontrollable conditions, and its comparability to past years. In the letter to SBE President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, CTA urges the state to direct school districts to utilize other tools to determine student progress and needs.

“This pandemic offers a great opportunity for school districts to utilize and share their local assessment data in lieu of data from a dubiously valid statewide test,” Boyd said. “Local assessments offer high-quality, authentic data that can inform parents and the community of student progress.”

 

High-Stakes Testing During a Pandemic is Cruel

On the front lines in education, teachers are keenly aware of the toll the pandemic is taking on students and are working hard to support their needs as much as safely possible. Just like adults, young people are grieving the loss of family and friends to the virus, while struggling to navigate the new and unfamiliar pandemic environment. Forcing students through lengthy state tests that will yield little if any valid or reliable results is nothing short of cruel – adding stress and anxiety to their lives at a time when they need our support and empathy.

“I’m just astonished at the ongoing conversation of ‘learning loss and challenges in engagement’ but we are still requiring students to participate in state testing online,” said Sweetwater Union High School District school counselor Dr. Elvia Estrella, a member of Sweetwater Counselors and Guidance Association. “I question the validity of the results of students being tested during a pandemic and in some households having to share space at home.”

 

Districts Await Direction from Federal Education Department

The SBE was planning to consider requesting the federal waiver at a meeting earlier this month, but the item was pulled to allow the new federal administration time to determine how best to proceed. Washington, Michigan, Oregon and New York are among the states that have already requested the waiver. CTA is also submitting a letter to the DOE outlining concerns and requesting the federal requirement for summative assessments be waived as soon as possible—as it was last year.

Last November, the SBE approved the development of short forms for some assessments but stopped short of requesting a full waiver, and California officials continued moving forward with assessment plans as required by federal law. The same month, the DOE announced the suspension of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) because of concerns about health and safety, and whether the data would be usable. In mid-December, CTA began circulating the petition calling for state officials to request the federal waiver, gathering more than 38,000 signatures of educators who want to focus on teaching not testing.

“On any given day, and under the best circumstances, test scores alone fail to tell us how a child is doing and where they need improvement,” Boyd said. “We need to focus our time and energy on meeting the challenges of the distance learning environment, narrowing the digital divide, and fulfilling the needs of all students — not forcing tests on our kids during a health crisis.”

 

CTA’s Stance on Assessments

CTA believes assessments should be used to inform instruction and improve student learning. They are not meant to label students or schools. State tests must be age- and subject-appropriate, and must be free from cultural, racial, gender, socioeconomic and linguistic biases. A true reflection of student achievement and improvement is always done through multiple measures and can never focus on just one test score.

 

Parents Can Choose to Opt Out

While state officials have yet to act on suspending testing for this spring, all parents and guardians still have the right to opt their students out of standardized assessments. California Education Code 60615 allows parents and guardians to submit written requests to school officials to excuse their students from state-mandated tests. Specific details are available from each school district. There are no consequences for opting out of testing.

 

What Is the CAASPP System?

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) is the state’s system of mandated and optional assessments. It currently includes three types of mandated tests: Smarter Balanced Assessments, California Alternate Assessments and California Science Assessments. The Smarter Balanced Assessments are in English language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11. Click here for more information on CAASPP.