A Poway High School faculty member gets ready to hand a school-issued laptop to a student. School districts across the state have moved to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the June 19 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

A wide range of education leaders spoke at a hearing of the Assembly Education Committee in Sacramento last week, including the state Board of Education president and a local superintendent.

So far, only one thing about schools in the fall appears to be clear: Each district will have wide-ranging discretion to implement widely differing back-to-school plans.

Katie McNamara, superintendent of South Bay Union, shared two insights, neither reassuring.

First, the state needs to clarify its guidance on masks, she said. Some agencies say it must happen, others seem to suggest it is optional, she said. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said he is proving “the strongest of recommendations” for districts to mandate mask wearing at all times. McNamara seemed to be looking for something more concrete.

Her second insight was worse: “I’m confident I will be making cuts to personnel in our future board meetings,” she said. South Bay Union was already having difficulty with its finances. Now with the pandemic bearing down, she fully expects layoffs, she said.

State board president Linda Darling-Hammond, who is also a well-respected education researcher, shared one piece of information that stuck out.

She said districts should plan to do formative assessments that will “evaluate what students know, remember and are ready to learn next.”

Here’s why internal assessments (as opposed to standardized tests) could be important: experts presume that many vulnerable students have slipped further behind during the pandemic. Assessing them as soon as they come back to school could help teachers understand who is furthest behind.

Here’s the catch: San Diego Unified officials said last week that they have no intention of doing formative assessments. An official said the district wants to teachers to “anticipate” the places where students might be behind.

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego.

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