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In This Moment (03/19): State Board of Education Makes Headway on Waivers and Ethnic Studies

March 19, 2021

The California State Board of Education (SBE) held a three-day meeting this week, taking steps to provide local education agencies (LEAs) flexibilities around administering assessments in the current school year. The SBE also approved the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that has been in the works for years.

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In a unanimous vote, the SBE directed the California Department of Education (CDE) to prepare a general waiver to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) that would allow LEAs, for the 2020-21 school year, to use the most viable option for assessment in their local context. This includes offering the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments and California Alternative Assessments (CAA) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, or other diagnostic, benchmark, or interim assessments that:

  • Are aligned with California Common Core State Standards for ELA and mathematics
  • Are available to assess students in grades 3-8 and grade 11
  • Are uniformly administered across a grade span, school, or district
  • Provide results that can be reported to parents/guardians and educators about individual students, and to the public by school and by district, disaggregated by student group

CDE is currently working on both the accountability waiver and the waiver of the California Science Test (CAST) that the SBE approved at its February meeting. CDE will begin working on a general waiver to allow local and interim assessments in lieu of the statewide summative assessments.

All current federal and state laws governing assessments still apply until the USDOE takes action. The SBE and CDE are working closely with the USDOE to resolve waiver requests as quickly as possible.

Ethnic Studies Guidance

On Thursday, the SBE unanimously approved, after several years, many drafts, and hours of public testimony, a state Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for use by LEAs. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is not mandatory, but is meant to help LEAs in navigating how to create an ethnic studies course and what to include in it. While many California civil rights activists support the final version, others remain concerned that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum does not go far enough.

California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, a longtime Linked Learning partner, former State Assemblymember and 40-year Professor of Africana Studies, supported this version saying, “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good” and argued “a well-taught ethnic studies curriculum is beneficial to all students, regardless of race, that every student’s life is enhanced by the knowledge of ethnic studies, about learning about the four major groups that they have interacted with.”

According to CDE, the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum will help high schools empower students students by illuminating the struggles and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/a/x Americans, and Asian Americans in California that are often overlooked. Governor Newsom included $5 million in the January budget proposal to support high-quality ethnic studies professional development and Assembymember Medina is authoring AB 101 which would add Ethnic Studies to the state graduation requirement.