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Santa Rosa schools forgoing state standardized testing this spring

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Santa Rosa City Schools won’t be administering state standardized tests this spring, a move expected to provide some relief for students and families impacted by the October wildfires.

The school district, the largest in Sonoma County, was among the worst hit by the wildfires, which destroyed one of its campuses and the homes of 817 students and 80 employees.

The fires also forced the district to close schools for three weeks.

Worried about the loss of instruction time, district officials decided to seek a waiver from the state’s English, math and science standardized tests.

Although it could take months before the federal government formally approves the waiver, the district will forgo the tests this spring and allow classrooms to dedicate the three to five weeks typically spent taking the exams for teaching and learning, Superintendent Diann Kitamura said.

“Our teachers and students have been doing a remarkable job of catching up on curriculum. This waiver of state testing will help in that effort,” Kitamura said in a statement that went out to parents late last week.

The move takes pressure off students and their families, who continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the wildfires, said Ed Navarro, principal of Rincon Valley Middle School and Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School.

“What I’m hearing from parents is how are we going to gain back instructional time. This is a way to do so,” he said. “I’m appreciative that our superintendent cares about the whole student and not just the testing.”

Navarro said students want to do well on tests. However, he said, knowing they were behind academically this year was a major stress for his students, who struggled getting back into the classroom routine after being displaced by the fires that erupted Oct. 8.

A tenth of his student body, or 126 students, lost homes in the fire. Although some found rental homes in nearby neighborhoods, others still face long commutes to school, he said.

“They know they have a unique year,” Navarro said. “When we came back, nobody said ‘we left on page 7, now let’s pick up on page 8.’ We had to ease everyone back in. … We still haven’t picked up the normal pace.”

About 8,900 students in third through eighth grade and 11th grade took the state’s English and math tests last year.

Santa Rosa City Schools is the only district in the county seeking a test waiver since the fires, said Scott Roark, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, which forwarded the district’s request to federal education officials this past Friday.

Navarro said the tests, typically held in April, provide important data on student gains, particularly for English-language learners.

However, he said the tests likely wouldn’t have accurately measured where students are academically.

In a letter to the state, Kitamura said the district will use later this spring or by next fall benchmark tests and other methods that align with state standards to measure students’ academic growth. She said the district “remains committed to ensuring all students are provided the opportunity to reach their potential.”