New accountability system inches forward

New accountability system inches forward

(Calif.) Trying to satisfy a variety of competing interests, the California State Board of Education moved carefully Wednesday to refine proposed accountability measures to ensure schools clearly  report on the performance of disadvantaged students without creating too many new centralized compliance demands.

A requirement that school districts report student test scores will now include clarifying language that when feasible, districts must include the growth of individual students in grades three through eight in English language arts and math.  The board also asked for a measure isolating student engagement that would include suspension rates and chronic absenteeism when available.

The refinements add depth to a list of five performance indicators that the board has been working with for much of the past year as the likely components of an evaluation rubric that will be used by the state to decide how well local educational agencies are meeting goals set within the Local Control Accountability Plans.

There has been growing tension over how restrictive the rubrics should be in directing spending decisions almost since the landmark legislation creating the Local Control Funding Formula was adopted 2 years ago.

Initially, the Brown administration wanted to leave local school boards largely free to decide how to use state funds to support targeted student groups but had to give ground to advocates for low-income families and English learners who wanted at least some assurance that the additional state money would be used as intended.

Wednesday’s hearing – which drew an overflow crowd and lasted close to five hours – was emblematic of the continued political strain between the two goals and the pressure the board is under not to weigh down the new system.

“I just want to restate my worry that if we have this many indicators that we’re going to include at the state level and multiply it by subgroups, again, now we’re back to the old (No Child Left Behind) model of 46 ways to identify LEAs that aren’t doing as good as they should be,” said Sue Burr, a former member of Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff and his key education adviser. “We need to be careful about our enthusiasm for purposes of state decision-making.”

The state board has been on a mission to find multiple measures for evaluating student and school performance since 2012 but the activity became even more urgent with passage by Congress late last year of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

While ESSA does away with the widely-discredited performance mandates of NCLB, it requires states to establish their own accountability system and submit them for review by the end of this year to the U.S. Department of Education.

The proposed rubrics has five performance indicators that schools will be judged – student test scores; progress of English learners toward English language proficiency; high school graduation rates; scoring on statewide assessments for grades three and eight in math and English; and suspension rates by grade span.

The directives added Wednesday include calling on staff to return in July with recommendations on adding performance measures surrounding teacher assignment; instructional materials and parent engagement. The board also asked for a report on including college and career readiness indicator as well as a measure tied to student health care.

Looming over the process is AB 2548 from Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D- San Diego, which would more thoroughly dictate to the state board what should be included in the school accountability plan. It is probably not favored by Gov. Brown but it is unclear how much support the bill has in the Legislature and could be used to leverage changes desired by advocates for the poor and immigrant families.

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