Sending a strong message endorsing the school accountability system adopted by the State Board of Education, Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have placed more emphasis on standardized test scores in measuring school and district performance.
In a message issued Saturday in vetoing Assembly Bill 2548, Brown credited the state board for creating a “thoughtful and integrated federal, state and local accountability system” after spending two years listening to public opinion. The board has adopted a process for annually reviewing and improving the system, he wrote, adding, “It is unnecessary and premature to impose additional requirements at this time.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who authored the bill and is a former school board member, expressed disappointment with Brown’s veto. “My legislative colleagues and I are still convinced that we need to focus more on closing achievement gaps and making the information about school performance more accessible and usable for parents,” she said in a statement.
The new accountability system, which the state board adopted earlier this month, shifts from California’s near-total reliance on test scores to measure how well schools and districts are doing to one based on a half-dozen measures, including non-academic measures.
Under the new accountability system, test scores on math, English language arts and, eventually, science will be included as key indicators of performance. Others will be rates of high school graduation, student suspensions and chronic absenteeism; how effectively English learners have learned English; and how prepared students are for pursuing college and careers. Districts will receive assistance if ethnic, racial and other students subgroups performed poorly in one or more of the measures.
Districts will also be held accountable for creating their measures of parent engagement, school climate and the rollout of the state’s new academic standards.
Legislators laid out multiple measures of accountability three years ago in the Local Control Funding Formula. They reaffirmed that intent in overwhelmingly approving Weber’s bill.
But the bill also said that more weight should be given to test scores when deciding which low-performing districts and schools should be singled out for state help. The law would have required that academic indicators of performance “receive substantial weight and, in aggregate, much greater weight than is afforded to all other indicators.”
The bill also would have required the state to come up with a simpler way of summarizing performance that enabled parents to easily compare their schools and districts with others.
The state board has not completed the final layout of annual “report cards” intended to show how well or poorly a school or district is doing. The latest version is fairly complex. It lists color-coded results of all measures of school and district performance, along with the results of ethnic, racial and other student subgroups on every measure.
Brown’s veto may not end the issue. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed last December, mandates that states provide extensive help to the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.
In draft regulations to implement the law, the U.S. Department of Education wants to require that academic achievement measures be the main determinant of which schools need help, and that reports on school performance summarize how a school is doing with a single number, category or index.
However, state board President Michael Kirst and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson opposed several of those regulations in a letter to the department.
Weber’s bill incorporated the requirements of the draft federal regulations. That is one reason the state’s Department of Finance, which typically reflects Gov. Brown’s views, opposed the bill.
In statements Sunday, Children Now and Education Trust-West, two nonprofit student advocacy groups that co-sponsored AB 2548, said that they would continue to press for including elements of the bill in the state’s plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act.
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