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Darrell Steinberg is the epitome of persistence – or a glutton for rejection. Undeterred by a stinging message accompanying a veto a year ago, the president pro tem of the Senate tried again, authoring a bill, heading once more to Gov. Jerry Brown, that would change the metrics of the state’s school accountability system.

Steinberg said he has had a number of conversations with Brown on the matter, and has made amendments to accommodate the governor. But he said Thursday that he still doesn’t know if Brown will sign it – or send it back to him. And Brown’s advisers aren’t commenting about pending bills, as usual.

Darrell Steinberg speaks at a rally in Sacramento against budget cuts to schools earlier this year.

Darrell Steinberg speaks at a rally in Sacramento against budget cuts to schools earlier this year.

Steinberg wants to alter the mix of factors that determine a school’s Academic Performance Index (API), which he argues is too tied to standardized test scores, predominantly math and English language arts, along with, to a smaller degree, science and history and the high school exit exam. Multiple-choice tests, he says, don’t really tell you how much learning is happening and, with high schools, whether students are being prepared well for college or the workforce.

Last year’s bill created a new index in which standardized tests would have comprised no more than 40 percent of the score for high school and no less than 40 percent for elementary and middle schools. Other factors for high schools would have included dropout rates, college remediation rates, success with career technical education programs, and graduation rates in a mix that the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction would have determined. Steinberg built a strong coalition of diverse education organizations, school reformers, and business groups in support of the bill.

Brown has never been a strong advocate of testing, but it wasn’t the veto as much as the accompanying message last October that came as a surprise. In a memorable line, he wrote that the bill “would add more things to measure, but it is doubtful that it would actually improve our schools. Adding more speedometers to a broken car won’t turn it into a high-performance machine.” Brown said quantitative measures can’t capture qualitative aspects of a school, such as “good character or love of learning.” And he raised the idea of a system of school reviews or inspections, “locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students and examine student work.”

Brown hasn’t elaborated on his concept of school inspections since then, so it’s not clear if he has in mind a corps of outside inspectors, as is done in England, or something less formal, conducted within a district for school improvement, not for a rating.

But in SB 1458, this year’s bill, Steinberg authorizes state Superintendent Tom Torlakson to create a school inspection program, as part of the API or a complement to it, if there is money appropriated for it.

Steinberg is less prescriptive this year, giving the State Board and State Superintendent more latitude to choose measures beyond the current components of the API. But the bill would require Torlakson to suggest ways give more emphasis to history and science either within the API or outside of it. And it would authorize including middle school dropout rates, a significant, often overlooked problem.

Other differences between this year’s and last year’s bill include:

  • Standardized tests would make up a maximum of 60 percent, not 40 percent, of a high school’s API score (an indication that Brown, despite ambivalence regarding standardized tests, still views it as an essential component of the API);
  • The State Board would have until 2016 to adopt new API measures. That would give the state some experience under the new Common Core assessments, which students would start to use in 2014-15, and new science assessments.

The bill doesn’t dictate elements of the remaining 40 percent of the API, but Steinberg said it might include high school graduation rates, percentage of students required to take remediation courses in college, and admission to apprenticeship programs.

The long-term goal, Steinberg said, is to encourage changes to make school more relevant to career and college choices. Components of the API would be the levers to affect curriculum changes, he said.

 


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  1. Ben 4 years ago4 years ago

    Some of the needed foundamentals… A great start. Thanks

  2. Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

    I think the similar schools rank is supposed to give you an idea of what your school does with the "inputs" it has. "Inputs" being mostly the families that are in the attending school community. So a rank of 3 means not so good compared to "similar" schools. But I scanned the 100 or so schools that are in my schools "similar" list and I couldn't even begin to guess how that … Read More

    I think the similar schools rank is supposed to give you an idea of what your school does with the “inputs” it has. “Inputs” being mostly the families that are in the attending school community. So a rank of 3 means not so good compared to “similar” schools. But I scanned the 100 or so schools that are in my schools “similar” list and I couldn’t even begin to guess how that number is calculated. I’m sure there is some crib sheet that gives all the details, but I doubt I would even get a sense for what it really means after having read it. I think this illustrates perfectly the problem with the changes suggested to the API. And in the age of the internet why not just give access to a broad set of measures and give up on this needless quest for a “better” API.

  3. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    API is basically meant to be a number so that you can compare schools at arms' length without having to visit any of them. And then, because three digit numbers are so hard to put in your head, it's further distilled into a Similar Schools Rank. My daughter's school has a similar schools rank of 3. Either this number is very noisy or California public schools are in great shape, if hers is only in the … Read More

    API is basically meant to be a number so that you can compare schools at arms’ length without having to visit any of them. And then, because three digit numbers are so hard to put in your head, it’s further distilled into a Similar Schools Rank.

    My daughter’s school has a similar schools rank of 3. Either this number is very noisy or California public schools are in great shape, if hers is only in the 30th percentile of happy fun educationally goodness.

  4. Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

    "The long-term goal, Steinberg said, is to encourage changes to make school more relevant to career and college choices. Components of the API would be the levers to affect curriculum changes, he said." Seems that encouragement is the long term goal. Nice goal, but where are the details? One possible encouragement is to provide schools with more resources. This bill does not do that. Another possible encouragement is to show people a … Read More

    “The long-term goal, Steinberg said, is to encourage changes to make school more relevant to career and college choices. Components of the API would be the levers to affect curriculum changes, he said.”

    Seems that encouragement is the long term goal. Nice goal, but where are the details? One possible encouragement is to provide schools with more resources. This bill does not do that. Another possible encouragement is to show people a new way to do things. This bill delegates the bulk of that responsibility. Another encouragement could be to provide incentives for achieving some goals. I don’t see the API as an incentive. It is part of the AYP, which is a real incentive, but proficiency on the CST tests would still be the determining factor. Another encouragement could be to give people freedom from regulations. In that sense this does encourage the State Board, but the bill does not include any provision for passing any of the freedom along to school districts. Another encouragement is to tell people they are doing a good job. But that type of encouragement needs to be specific or it becomes meaningless. And conglomerating a bunch of data into a single measure doesn’t help with specificity. So I’m left with a lot of doubt about what encourage was supposed to mean.

  5. Christopher Cabaldon 4 years ago4 years ago

    By limiting standardized assessments but requiring that the remaining components (other than graduation rates) be "valid, reliable, and stable measures" of college and career readiness, SB 1458 threads the needle: Broadening the API without opening the door to either measures-du-jour or indicators of inputs and processes instead of student outcomes/achievement unless they've been validated (and virtually no input/process indicators have ever met that standard). No one knows what measures can meet the valid/reliable/stable standard … Read More

    By limiting standardized assessments but requiring that the remaining components (other than graduation rates) be “valid, reliable, and stable measures” of college and career readiness, SB 1458 threads the needle: Broadening the API without opening the door to either measures-du-jour or indicators of inputs and processes instead of student outcomes/achievement unless they’ve been validated (and virtually no input/process indicators have ever met that standard). No one knows what measures can meet the valid/reliable/stable standard by 2016, but several are in development and pilot testing now, and SB 1458 will force the issue. By tossing out the laundry list and kitchen sink, and replacing it with a fundamental and unassailable standard, Steinberg’s bill is actually an improvement over last year’s proposal, not just a parry to the veto message.

    Replies

    • Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

      Looking at a number of measures is definitely broader than looking at a single measure. But it’s not at all clear that mathematically combining a bunch of measures into an index is an equivalent idea. Also, why is force needed? If force is needed it might be better to have some patience and defer any change.

  6. John Fensterwald 4 years ago4 years ago

    Paul: Could you expand on what you mean? A bit cryptic.

  7. Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

    This bill has always been short on the elaboration of the word encourage. Let’s give it another helping of rejection.

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