In summary

To rectify the growing education equity gap in California schools, we need testing data about how students are doing academically.

By Paul Keefer, Special to CalMatters

Paul Keefer is the Area 3 Trustee for the Sacramento County Board of Education, pkeefer@scoe.net.

The learning loss resulting from the pandemic is well documented. McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, described the disproportional impacts to students of color, and we know the divide deepens in low-income communities and in rural areas that suffer from broadband issues.

How can we work to rectify the growing education equity gap in California when we don’t have current data about how students are doing academically?

At stake is the annual California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress that students in grades 3-8 and 11 take each year. This statewide test provides detailed information about students’ academic acumen and is used to assess proficiency in English language arts and math.  In 2020, the assessment test was not administered due to the unprecedented shuttering of in-person instruction across the state.

Now, in the second school year in the midst of the pandemic, California students are caught in the middle of a battle being fought by the California Department of Education and deep-pocketed interest groups such as the California Teachers Association.

When the federal government announced that it is requiring state testing, the California Department of Education unanimously approved the use of “shorter standardized tests in English language arts and math this spring, creating a path for collecting critical student data amidst COVID-19 uncertainties.”

Not surprisingly, the California Teachers Association disagrees with administering the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test this year and has asked for a second suspension of the assessment.

If we do not have a mechanism to determine students’ learning other than grades, which can be subjective, how will we know how our students are actually faring? How much further behind will California students fall if we take two years off from administering individual student assessments?

Students who are marginalized are clearly identified through California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress data on the California School Dashboard. We already know that California students in grades four and eight are performing well below average of all states in language arts and mathematics as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. I’d like to think that hasn’t worsened during the pandemic, but there is no way to know without statewide testing.

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress scores for 11th grade students are used for the Early Assessment Program through the California State University system for proper college placement in mathematics and language arts. In 2020, thousands of 11th grade students did not have Early Assessment Program results available which is one piece of the equation for declining college enrollment.

By assessing California students this spring using the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress we will be able to determine:

  • Student learning data based on demographics and subgroups by student, grade level, school, district and state to determine learning loss due to COVID-19 and closure of in-person instruction
  • Strengths and weaknesses of issued technology and curriculum used by students remotely
  • Areas of strength and innovation from online instruction
  • Areas of concern related to equity and access

We will also have Early Assessment Program data to successfully support college-bound students. This is critical as the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center found that “public college enrollment among graduates of low-income high schools declined at disproportionately higher rates, revealing impediments to college access during COVID-19.”

As we reel from the effects of the pandemic, we should not abandon data-driven decisions. Quantitative California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress data is needed to ensure that under-performing schools get the resources they need, and that charter schools have accurate data to submit to their authorizer as they work through the new charter renewal process established under AB 1505.

As teachers and administrators start to make plans for the 2021-22 school year, they need concrete data so they can make informed decisions about funding allocations, interventions and student supports so that all California students can succeed. If political pressure amounts to not administering the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test we will be blind to these important data points and students will suffer.

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