After his last legislative effort on the subject was brusquely rejected by Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is making another effort to reform California’s dozen-year-old method of ranking its public schools.
The outcome of the bill will be another test of whether Brown and the leading Democrat in the state Senate will be able to come to an agreement over key education strategies. If only because schools consume a dominant share of the state’s General Fund, Democratic leaders have a compelling reason to come up with a unified approach to school reform.
Last October, Gov. Brown, in a memorable veto message, rejected Steinberg’s proposal for an “Education Quality Index” as outlined in his bill (SB 547) which had been approved by both the state Senate and Assembly.
But Steinberg has introduced a new bill, SB 1458, which retains the Academic Performance Index (API), the state’s system for ranking its schools on a scale of 200 to 1000, although in a substantially amended form. The index was established by the Public School Accountability Act of 1999. A score of 800 indicates that the school has attained a certain level of proficiency.
The bill takes into account some of Brown’s criticisms of Steinberg’s earlier legislation in his veto message, including less emphasis on test scores as well as a more locally-driven system of evaluating schools using local panels that would not rely on test scores.
If approved by the Legislature, the bill would reduce the proportion of the index based on test scores to 40 percent, rather than the current 60 percent. It gives the State Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to incorporate still to be defined measures of “college and career preparedness,” as well as of science and social science.
Currently, the API includes only measures of English Language Arts and math, plus how students do on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).
The bill also calls for including measures of how successfully students are going from elementary to middle school, and from middle school to high school, and then into the work force.
Significantly, the legislation also calls for eliminating the decile ranking system, whereby schools are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their API score. Currently schools get two decile rankings — one compared to all schools in the state, and another “similar schools” ranking comparing it to schools with a similar demographic make up and other factors.
It also gives the Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to “develop and implement a program of school quality review.”
The review would be conducted by “locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students, and examine student work, if an appropriation for this purpose is made in the annual Budget Act.”
According to estimates by Education Sector, setting up such panels, similar to “inspectorates” that constitute the core of the British system of evaluating its schools, would require over 800 inspectors, and would cost between $65 million and $130 million annually.