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Courtesy of the Center for Parent Empowerment

Gloria Romero, a former state senator, meets with parents from Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim to discuss a "parent trigger" campaign in 2014.

While California’s testing and accountability system is in flux, parents are allowed to attempt to force major changes at schools considered failing based on tests that are at least two years old and that measure material that’s no longer being taught.

A judge’s ruling earlier this month in an Anaheim case indicated that parent groups can continue with so-called “parent trigger” campaigns to transform schools that are low-performing, even though recent test scores are unavailable.

“The crux of this ruling is quite empowering for every parent in California,” said Ben Austin, the former executive director of Parent Revolution, who is now with the nonprofit Students Matter.

Under the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, also known as the “parent trigger law,” parents can prompt changes at their schools, including replacing principals or turning schools into charters, if the schools fail to meet test-score goals. But California is in the middle of moving to a new testing system and produced its last standardized scores in 2013.

In Anaheim, Palm Lane Elementary School, which sits about a mile and a half from Disneyland, is proceeding with plans to convert into a charter in 2016, said Gloria Romero, the former state senator who co-authored the law and who now runs the California Center for Parent Empowerment. She helped lead the Anaheim parents. Parents complained about the removal of a principal, who they claimed was improving the school, and school administrators’ failure to address their education concerns.

Anaheim City School District officials argued in the Orange County Superior Court case that parents were ineligible to use the “parent trigger law” because no test scores were available from 2014 – the year when parents started collecting signatures for the transformation of Palm Lane Elementary School. Both sides filed legal complaints in April.

Judge Andrew Banks sided with the parents because the California Department of Education had frozen test scores, called adequate yearly progress, or AYP, so that 2013 results could count for 2014.

“The evidence clearly establishes that Palm Lane failed to make adequate yearly progress,” Banks wrote in the July 16 ruling, clarifying that the 2013 scores count.

Superintendent Linda Wagner said the district filed the suit to clarify the law because of the lack of recent test scores. She said the law creates “ambiguities” for school boards that need legislative attention.

“We hope that the courts and the Legislature will provide the much-needed clarification and guidance to school districts throughout California on these challenging issues,” Wagner said in a statement the day after the ruling.

The district board is appealing the ruling – a decision backed by the California Teachers Association, a longtime opponent of the “parent trigger law.” Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for the teachers union with 325,000 members, said the law is disruptive, divisive and does not guarantee better learning.

“We also agree with the school district that it makes no sense to allow outdated student testing data to be used to disrupt the future of a school, as was done with Palm Lane,” said Myslinski in an email.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, who co-authored the law, said he is asking what can be done to keep the “parent trigger” option viable to parents while the state sorts out the future of the testing and accountability system.

“We need to keep the tool available. That’s the question – how do you go about doing it,” Huff said.

Under the act, parents can initiate petitions to transform schools mostly under two main conditions:

  • The school has failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, goals set under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law requires a certain percentage of students score proficient on tests.
  • The school’s Academic Performance Index – a three-digit compilation of test scores – falls below 800.

If the school meets the criteria, parents must collect signatures from at least half of the parents and guardians to prompt a change.

Through 2013, the yearly progress and API scores were based on the California Standards Tests, which measured how well students were learning under the previous standards.

The following year, the state switched to the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are based on the new Common Core standards. In 2014, the state gave a field test of Smarter Balanced Assessments. The first full run of the new assessments occurred in the spring and the results have yet to be released.

During this transition, the state has suspended the API for at least a year while officials attempt to come up with a new measurement. Also, under a federal waiver, the state is leaving test scores out of the AYP calculation for now.

Jenny Singh, education research and evaluation administrator for the California Department of Education, said parents can continue to use the API based on 2013 results or a three-year average of the previous API scores for “parent trigger” purposes.

Also, this year’s AYP will be based on criteria other than test scores: participation rates for all schools, graduation rates for high schools and attendance for elementary and middle schools, Singh said. The State Board of Education is expected to set the goals for graduation and attendance in September.

Any changes to the law would have to be made by the state Legislature, Singh said.

“Just because there’s suspension of testing, it doesn’t mean everything gets thrown out,” Romero said.

Huff said he believes the state should have kept the API in the meantime. For now, however, state education officials are expected next year to come up with a new system that will incorporate multiple measures, not just test scores, for all accountability purposes. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson last week announced the formation of a task force to come up with a recommendation.

But advocates said parents shouldn’t have to wait, just because the state has yet to come up with a new system.

“What’s very clear is that … the burden falls on the state, not on the parents,” said Gabe Rose, chief strategy officer for Parent Revolution, which leads “parent trigger” campaigns.

Even before the Anaheim case, advocates encountered resistance from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Officials claimed last year that the district was exempt from the law because it had a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

But the U.S. Department of Education and the state Legislative Counsel have said that the district has to follow state law.

Since 2010, the parent trigger law has been used at 10 schools with different results, Rose said. In five cases, he said parents made changes at the school, such as making it a charter or bringing in new leadership. At two schools, deals were negotiated before petitions were submitted. In three other cases, parents used the threat of circulating petitions as a way to negotiate a deal to improve schools.

The first successful “parent trigger” case was in Adelanto, where parents led the conversion of a school into a charter, Desert Trails Elementary. Parents, who were concerned about low test scores, led a two-year campaign, including legal challenges, to turn the school into a charter in 2013.

Romero said parents should still have the chance to make improvements in their schools while the state and federal governments change their accountability systems.

“It doesn’t invalidate the law. It just means we have to update the law,” she said.

 


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  1. David B. Cohen 1 year ago1 year ago

    While the ruling is interesting and relevant for those of us interested in California education policy, the urge to build this into something it's not seems irresistible for Huff, Romero, and Austin. The parent trigger was never going to affect "every parent in California" - as it only applies to a small fraction of California schools and has only been "pulled" a few times. I think the total number of schools affected by campaigns has … Read More

    While the ruling is interesting and relevant for those of us interested in California education policy, the urge to build this into something it’s not seems irresistible for Huff, Romero, and Austin. The parent trigger was never going to affect “every parent in California” – as it only applies to a small fraction of California schools and has only been “pulled” a few times. I think the total number of schools affected by campaigns has been about ten. At that pace, in another *decade* parent triggers will affect about one percent of the state’s schools. So while we’re having a jolly good debate about it, let’s keep some perspective too. For what it’s worth, I don’t think divisive battles shrouded in secrecy, leading – by design – to less and less parental control and input, will ever make a dent in improving the public school system.

  2. Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    I wonder how much AYP will be watered down in order to make the crappy dumping schools look good.
    Accountability is the enemy of the teachers unions.

    Replies

    • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

      Watered down? Virtually every school in the state would fail ayp if it were applied to all.

      • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

        Navigio, I think PARENT is referring to the yet to be completed multi-faceted API that uses several indicators including such things as suspensions and expulsions to judge school quality. You are right that AYP was a scorched earth type policy, to use my words.

  3. CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

    Seems like it shouldn’t be so hard to be clear about whether parent trigger efforts have actually improved any schools anywhere, but the follow-the-money principle means the answer is murky at best. You can find an update on Diane Ravitch’s blog by Googling “The story of the parent trigger: an education fad that failed.”

  4. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    Is there a name for baloney piled ever higher on top of baloney? There has yet to be a "parent trigger" case (that I am aware of) that has actually been initiated by parents. In every instance it has been the paid stooges of billionaires passing petitions and in almost every case many of the parents who originally signed the petitions have asked to have their names deleted because they assert that were misled by … Read More

    Is there a name for baloney piled ever higher on top of baloney? There has yet to be a “parent trigger” case (that I am aware of) that has actually been initiated by parents. In every instance it has been the paid stooges of billionaires passing petitions and in almost every case many of the parents who originally signed the petitions have asked to have their names deleted because they assert that were misled by the paid agents circulating the petitions. The districts hammered by the billionaire’s proxies to this point have not fared well under the authority of the charter management agencies that have moved closely in the wake of the agent provocateurs, and neither have the children affected.

    Oddly, when parents have asked to have their name removed from petitions the courts have denied them that right. Even odder is the ruling of the judge in this case. (Not to mention Vergara which was a real doozy.) I recall a quote that went something like: ” At times the law is a fool.” The foolishness seems to be occurring with some regularity currently.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      Gary, do you deny that there are very bad teachers who have been employed over 10 years? It's amazing you would deny this. Everything to you is a conspiracy. If it's up to you, you're dictator, no parent triggers, no billionaires, how would you increase the productivity of teachers, reduce absenteeism especially false absenteeism, and eliminate the achievement gap by getting rid of teachers who are significantly underperforming others? I believe you pretend … Read More

      Gary, do you deny that there are very bad teachers who have been employed over 10 years? It’s amazing you would deny this. Everything to you is a conspiracy. If it’s up to you, you’re dictator, no parent triggers, no billionaires, how would you increase the productivity of teachers, reduce absenteeism especially false absenteeism, and eliminate the achievement gap by getting rid of teachers who are significantly underperforming others?

      I believe you pretend to be against each individual case but in reality are for some teachers taking days off just because and no teacher ever being fired except in the most extreme cases. You seem to be against anything that proves some teachers are better than others. Every profession is like this.

      You aren’t at the ground level relating to real people if you don’t admit bad teachers are a problem. If every way anyone on here has suggested to deal with it is bad, what is good, according to you? Assuming we can’t eliminate poverty quickly, how would you close the gap?

      • Parent News Opinion 1 year ago1 year ago

        Mr. Floyd, I think that unless the union begins to triangulate in how they share power of decision making with parent choices, or earnestly work with parents and school districts to extend school days, use mandated testing to explore what individual level of mastery each child has (3X each year on report cards), then the schools may ebb into tra la la land and the old built up word for "trust," in teachers and administration … Read More

        Mr. Floyd,

        I think that unless the union begins to triangulate in how they share power of decision making with parent choices, or earnestly work with parents and school districts to extend school days, use mandated testing to explore what individual level of mastery each child has (3X each year on report cards), then the schools may ebb into tra la la land and the old built up word for “trust,” in teachers and administration of schools may evaporate or corrode. I am still very concerned between the link of campaign financing and support for Mr. Tom Torlakson and the teacher unions. I am thinking that parents, may, take a back seat to all things and the C.D.E. may not act in prompt ways to help parents. In this case, it is stated that over 60% of the parents from the school signed petitions to make it a new charter school after many many years of what parents considered to be negative educationally for their children. Then new staff was hired. Then the parents just wanted a clean break with the methodology of how the school district runs a school, and thus, the parents wanted a new private or non profit, not sure which, charter school. Then it all went to court. Now, who knows what is going to happen in a month when school starts.

        The thing is, let us honor the strength of parents coming together to ask for big change in schools. Let us understand that the parents had to gather the signatures off campus and it must have taken a great deal of effort and time by the unpaid parents to do such a thing. Do we know if a “billionaire,” or two, paid for the petition gathering? Is there some proof to this?

        I say the charter school movement is shaking up the status quo of the old way schools were run. Some charters good, some bad, but the charters do use data, lots of it, to set courses of sailing with regard to where they start each year and where they ended up in growth for each child. At least, maybe the good charters do this, and the good traditional public schools do this too.

        We must put that threat to all school districts, which is not really promoted, that if 50% of all parents want to make changes as to if a school needs a new principal, or a new start as a charter, and if the school is considered faltering by the C.D.E. with some kind of measure, well, we must honor the parent power. It must be respected.

        The parents have spoken. The judge has spoken. Gary has spoken.

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      Yes, Gary, you are right: The billionaires in effect passed petitions for parents to sign to change a very few schools. Contrast that diminutive effort with the behemoth, Common Core you support that was foisted upon California by billionaire private interests with no effort to get any approval of the public - a reform that transformed public education in this state and country without any trial anywhere and is now in court to … Read More

      Yes, Gary, you are right: The billionaires in effect passed petitions for parents to sign to change a very few schools. Contrast that diminutive effort with the behemoth, Common Core you support that was foisted upon California by billionaire private interests with no effort to get any approval of the public – a reform that transformed public education in this state and country without any trial anywhere and is now in court to determine if it was even a constitutional adoption process.

      More unionist doubletalk.

  5. Roxana Marachi 1 year ago1 year ago

    This past month, two coalitions comprised of hundreds of Civil Rights, Education, and Community Groups advocated for an end to high-stakes testing and for a moratorium on charter school expansions (see recent post on EduResearcher dot com). Parent trigger groups would do well to learn more about the unintended negative consequences of charter reform on the communities they intend to support. The issues are complex and worth exploring in more depth: http://bit.ly/chart_look

    Replies

    • Parent News Opinion 1 year ago1 year ago

      Ms. Marachi, Why not honor the overwhelming parent choice to make the school a charter school. I believe if over 50% of the parents signed a petition to take the educational pedagogical power away from the superintendent of the Anaheim school district, yet you wish to passionately pull down parent choice and not honor parent choice. I sure hope you are not working at any university where you may instill in the innocent minded teachers that … Read More

      Ms. Marachi,

      Why not honor the overwhelming parent choice to make the school a charter school. I believe if over 50% of the parents signed a petition to take the educational pedagogical power away from the superintendent of the Anaheim school district, yet you wish to passionately pull down parent choice and not honor parent choice.

      I sure hope you are not working at any university where you may instill in the innocent minded teachers that parent voice is to be overturned at any cost.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        It's not well thought out, it's automatic. The union industrial complex is automatically against charters any way they can be. It's like being at war with another country, it's not about what's right, it's just about winning and maintaining the sacred (to them) status quo. Read More

        It’s not well thought out, it’s automatic. The union industrial complex is automatically against charters any way they can be. It’s like being at war with another country, it’s not about what’s right, it’s just about winning and maintaining the sacred (to them) status quo.

  6. Clayton Moore 1 year ago1 year ago

    Nice coverage, identifying the different groups involved. Perhaps a link to the new Blueprint, which was attached to another article, would be useful here.

    Replies

  7. Parent News Opinion 1 year ago1 year ago

    Reporter Tully, Good work in writing an unbiased article that defends parent rights and informs parents that they do have power to voice change and get change! Parents need to get much more involved in education because, and this is my parent opinion, there is too much polical monies and a stacking of the task forces by the california department of education, and I call for parent revolution and members from The California Center For Parent Empowerment … Read More

    Reporter Tully,

    Good work in writing an unbiased article that defends parent rights and informs parents that they do have power to voice change and get change!

    Parents need to get much more involved in education because, and this is my parent opinion, there is too much polical monies and a stacking of the task forces by the california department of education, and I call for parent revolution and members from The California Center For Parent Empowerment to be on that C.D.E. task force that will be deciding on recommendations to the C.D.E and State Board Of Education on what testing will be used, how much testing in addition to other rubrics of educational fitness school and district evaluations. This is a wonderful court ruling full of justice for parents and children who want equity and high quality education for all children and not disproportionate low quality teaching environments in many schools that fat cat school district administrators and high paid teachers are keenly aware of.

  8. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    A case of teacher unions speaking of both sides of theirs mouths if I ever saw one. On the one side they advocate for less test score emphasis in the new design of the API (and most would prefer no test scores at all), and on the other side they claim the parent trigger ought to be sidelines because of a temporary lack of test scores.

    Replies

    • Zeev Wurman 1 year ago1 year ago

      Actually, this is not an example of teacher unions speaking of both sides of their mouth but a classic example of hutzpah (a variety of “cheek”): murdering one’s parents and then asking the court for leniency as an orphan.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        So true, the unions have been so extreme for the last 10 years they have lost all intellectual credibility. When I hear they "just want a say" I cringe because I know that means taking over, delaying any action, and making it all about poverty with zero accountability and zero credit for those who do thrive when poor. Nothing the teacher's union says has any hope of closing the achievement gap any time … Read More

        So true, the unions have been so extreme for the last 10 years they have lost all intellectual credibility. When I hear they “just want a say” I cringe because I know that means taking over, delaying any action, and making it all about poverty with zero accountability and zero credit for those who do thrive when poor. Nothing the teacher’s union says has any hope of closing the achievement gap any time soon. If you have to solve poverty first, the only hope would be to become far more socialist than we are first, and then take as a matter of faith that with the extra income and housing stability black and Latino (and white) scores would rise to the Asian level. It’s not just about money. It’s about a system that accepts mediocrity from students, teachers and parents, just to name a few. Talk about murdering the parents and asking for sympathy as an orphan, how about watching TV and claiming you’re too poor to study books the government gave you in housing the government pays for and while eating food the government pays for. That’s one of the most ridiculous claims in history and one the union accepts without question.

    • David B. Cohen 1 year ago1 year ago

      It's not hypocritical at all. They are separate issues with some overlap in that they both involve test scores. Nothing inconsistent about saying that, 1). test scores have been overemphasized in accountability generally, and 2). the lack of recent test data prevents determination of API under the old formula, making "parent trigger" eligibility impossible to determine. The first is a statement of a broader opinion, while the second is an interpretation of a technical procedure. (I'm not … Read More

      It’s not hypocritical at all. They are separate issues with some overlap in that they both involve test scores. Nothing inconsistent about saying that,

      1). test scores have been overemphasized in accountability generally, and
      2). the lack of recent test data prevents determination of API under the old formula, making “parent trigger” eligibility impossible to determine.

      The first is a statement of a broader opinion, while the second is an interpretation of a technical procedure. (I’m not arguing the merits of the second statement, just pointing out that it’s not in opposition to the first).

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