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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cover-up in California: State botched remote learning, tried to silence critics

After Oakland schools closed in March, 2020, eight-year-old Cayla J. had two remote classes. Then, according to her mother, the teacher said that some students couldn't access remote learning, so it was canceled for everyone. In the fall, Cayla and her sister had one 45-minute video class per day, plus a half-hour session with classmates. The district kept schools closed for 204 days.

Nonprofits such as Oakland Reach stepped in when students were locked out of school and received limited online instruction.

Her mother turned to a nonprofit, The Oakland REACH, for computer help, tutoring and enrichment programs the district didn't provide.

California students were denied equal access to education during the pandemic due to state ineptitude, charges Cayla J. v. the State of California. Plaintiffs are low-income black and Hispanic students in Oakland and Los Angeles, but the suit names the California Department of Education (CDE), the state school board and Superintendent Tony Thurmond, reports John Fensterwald on EdSource. California, a local-control state, failed to “ensure that the disparate impacts experienced by students of color and low-income students were addressed, much less remediated,” state the public-interest lawyers who brought the case.

Deputy State Superintendent Malia Valla said the CDE offered “tools and resources on best practices” to help local districts “meet local needs” around student mental health, learning acceleration and other efforts.

The trial will begin Nov. 13.

The California Department of Education tried to stop two Stanford education professors from submitting briefs in support of the plaintiffs this month, claiming that their access to student data was conditioned on an agreement not to testify in lawsuits adverse to the department. "Faced with a public backlash and a likely ruling against it by (Judge Brad) Seligman," the department backed down on threats to retaliate against the researchers, Fensterwald reports.

The CDE manipulated test results to hide widening disparities by race and income, concludes a brief by Andrew Ho, a Harvard education professor. Ho accuses the state of choosing “a biased calculation of achievement gaps that leads to an incorrect conclusion that achievement gaps have stayed the same through the pandemic.”

CDE’s data for the Smarter Balanced results in English language arts and math in 2021-22 show that all students did worse in English and math, but that the achievement gap did not widen, writes Fensterwald.

CDE compared the percentages of various groups that scored at or above standards. A more accurate measure, used by other states, looks at individual students’ losses and gains in scale points, Ho wrote. Using that methodology, “California test scores show that racial inequality increased in almost all subjects and grades. Economic inequality also increased

“The state should recognize this as the educational emergency that it is and rise to meet this challenge armed with all appropriate data and support," Ho concludes. "Substantial and growing proportions of California students are not on track.”

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