California to continue work on accountability system

Sept. 19, 2017


California and 30 other states submitted their Every Student Succeeds Act plans to the U.S. Department of Education by a Sept. 18 deadline. At the same time, there continue to be many moving parts to the state’s overall system of school measures and support.

On an 8-2 vote, the State Board of Education approved the State Plan for ESSA, which SBE President Michael Kirst called “an application for federal funds.” He pointed out federal compliance was only one part of a “totality” of effort that began in California well before ESSA, referring to the Local Control Funding Formula as the foundational statute guiding the state’s work.

The $8 billion the state stands to receive in overall federal funding, of which $2.5 billion is for ESSA, represents a small portion of the $92.5 billion California will spend on K-12 education in 2017-18, Kirst said.

The State Plan for ESSA was submitted without a final methodology for defining the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools the federal government wants identified for improvement under Title 1. Reconciling California’s system of measuring continuous improvement with federal requirements has not been easy. The SBE wants to ensure the state’s system of support links low-performing schools to the local education agencies identified for support under LCFF.

The SBE is expected to settle on methodology in January 2018 and submit an addendum to the federal plan. Compliance under ESSA begins in 2018-19.

Two dissenting votes, by SBE members Patricia Rucker and Feliza Ortiz-Licon, included concerns about significant equity issues. Rucker said she had “many, many, many questions” about the ESSA plan, particularly in the area of real, sustainable change.” She said she did not think the work that is being done on accountability is effectively moving down to stakeholders.

“Schools are failing some students, and they are successful with others,” she said. “It’s going to continue to be the same students (who are underserved) if we don’t have the hard conversations. I’m not saying the work is not important, it’s just not inclusive with all stakeholders.”

Ortiz-Licon agreed, stating that the collaborative model should include more voices. “Bureaucracy is very resilient; things don’t trickle down,” she said.

She expressed concerns that the plan did not go far enough in addressing the persistent performance and equity gaps that exist in public schools. In particular, Ortiz-Licon was disappointed that the plan does not articulate clearly defined interim goals and academic progress schools are expected to make from year to year in order to close achievement gaps.

The board spent several hours Sept. 13 hearing about and responding to proposed refinements to the state’s new accountability system. Of particular focus were refinements to the state and local indicators on the California School Dashboard, as well as how management of supports will actually work. Other areas of interest included college and career readiness, parent involvement indicators, a new English learner test, charter school reporting, small school district flexibility, and ensuring a broad course of study in elementary grades.

Speaking on behalf of ACSA, Legislative Advocate Martha Alvarez and Sheldon Smith, assistant superintendent, business services for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, cautioned the SBE to be mindful of making too many changes all at once. Balance and adequate training, they said, are important to a system that will be understood by all stakeholders.

“Constant changes are particularly difficult to explain,” Smith told the board. ACSA supports an annual review process the California Department of Education intends to pursue as a better approach for refining individual state and local indicators.

The CDE anticipates public release of the 2017 Fall Dashboard the week of Nov. 27. Over the coming year, the SBE will continue its discussions to strengthen the college and career indicator and determine how alternative schools will fit into an overall single, coherent accountability system. More immediately, the CDE plans to bring forth recommendations to the SBE in November with the goal of making the school conditions and climate local indicator more meaningful.

In addition to building out accountability measures, the CDE, SBE, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and county offices of education, via CCSESA, are responsible for providing assistance to LEAs under LCFF and will continue to meet to discuss coordination and alignment of assistance activities.

A short-term focus this fall will include the updated California School Dashboard being used to determine whether COEs must offer assistance to districts under LCFF.

ACSA has invited the state agencies to seek input from administrators at the October Leadership Assembly meeting. This feedback will complement other input ACSA staff has received through various committees and councils and ACSA’s Accountability Task Force, which will be meeting again Oct.11 in LA. For questions or to provide input, contact Martha Alvarez at malvarez@acsa.org.

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