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By Julian Peeples

Amid the continuing campaign to suspend statewide standardized assessments, which would be cruel to students and of little use to educators and schools, the State Board of Education (SBE) voted on March 16 to give school districts additional testing options this spring.

The decision by the SBE to allow school districts the flexibility to use either state Smarter Balanced tests in English language arts and mathematics or standards-aligned local assessments to gauge student learning came in response to growing calls from educators, parents and school administrators for more options. More than 70,000 CTA members and other concerned Californians signed CTA’s petition calling for a waiver of testing, and nearly 6,000 emails were sent directly to the SBE. The SBE had previously decided to maximize flexibilities offered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), such as allowing remote administration of the tests, reducing the length of the tests and extending the testing window until summer, and on March 16 voted unanimously to seek further flexibility to account for the impact of COVID-19 on California students, families and schools.

“We need to focus on meeting the challenges of distance learning, the digital divide, and fulfilling the needs of all students — not forcing tests on our kids during a health crisis.”

—CTA President E. Toby Boyd

“The board’s action, coupled with our previous request for flexibility, will give local educators and state policymakers important data on student progress while recognizing the realities of a very challenging year,” says SBE President Linda Darling-Hammond.

The SBE is seeking to allow school districts the flexibility to use the best assessment tools available in their local contexts this spring. According to the California Department of Education, giving school districts this flexibility will help lessen concerns about students participating in extensive testing before they have a chance to re-adjust to in-person learning. Newly confirmed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona indicated that ED would not approve blanket requests for waivers, reversing course from last year’s decision allowing states to suspend testing. According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), all states that receive federal funds for students from low-income families and English learners must assess learning progress annually.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CTA President E. Toby Boyd says, educators need to focus on teaching, not testing.

“Under the best circumstances, test scores alone fail to tell us how a child is doing and where they need improvement,” Boyd says. “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.”


#CancelTheTests NEA is calling for standardized tests to be canceled nationwide during the pandemic. “Students are navigating the most difficult year of learning in modern history. The last thing they need is … a stressful test that will not be an effective barometer of their needs and accomplishments,” says NEA’s letter to the U.S. Department of Education. Add your name in support here.

CTA’s Advocacy Campaign 2020-21

OCTOBER 2020:
CTA State Council calls for a suspension of state testing.

NOVEMBER 2020:
CTA calls on SBE to seek a testing waiver.

DECEMBER 2020:
CTA creates petition calling for state testing waiver.

JANUARY 2021:

  • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resigns.
  • CTA again calls on SBE to seek a testing waiver.
  • NEA issues letter to Education Secretary-nominee Miguel Cardona.

FEBRUARY 2021:

  • CTA sends letters to SBE and ED expressing concerns.
  • ED sends letter to all states rejecting blanket waivers but
    offering “significant flexibility” on testing.
  • CTA sends amended letter to SBE, urging state to apply for a waiver.
  • CTA petition reaches 40,000 signatures.
  • SBE directs staff to prepare application to ED for maximum flexibility, and to draft proposal allowing use of local assessments.

MARCH 2021:

  • Miguel Cardona is sworn in as new secretary of education.
  • Congressional Democrats call on Biden administration to
    suspend testing.
  • CTA and partners send letter to SBE urging flexibility to use local assessments, and also meet with SBE members to
    lobby for use of local assessments.
  • CTA petition reaches 60,000 signatures; educators send
    almost 6,000 emails directly to SBE members.
  • SBE votes unanimously to apply for federal waiver,
    approves expanded testing flexibility so school districts can
    use local assessments in lieu of administering state tests.
  • CTA petition reaches 70,000 signatures as California awaits
    official Cardona decision.

Opting Out

Families can opt out their students from standardized assessments. California Education Code 60615 allows parents/guardians to submit written requests to school officials to excuse students from state-mandated tests. Visit cta.org/optout for more and for educators’ rights regarding testing.

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