Calling the new state-mandated local accountability plans “a daunting undertaking,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office called on the Legislature to allow school districts to write more focused annual plans for achievement.
The plans, called the Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPS, will become more meaningful if districts can concentrate on “their highest-priority areas” rather than give equal attention to the eight priority areas that the Legislature wrote into law, the LAO said in a report released Monday. The nonpartisan, independent agency studied 50 LCAPs, including those of the 11 biggest districts. The others represent a cross-section of the state’s 1,000 school districts.
The LAO is urging lawmakers to require that districts be clearer in detailing how they will spend money to meet academic and other targets, especially additional funding mandated for “high-needs” students, including English learners and low-income students. The nonprofit advocacy group Education Trust-West made a similar recommendation in its study of districts’ LCAPs, issued last month. Children’s advocacy groups, such as Children Now and Public Advocates, are also recommending that approach.
Districts are required to address two dozen metrics and set goals for a dozen subgroups of students. They include not only English learners, low-income students and foster children, who get extra money under the new funding law, but also eight ethnic and racial groups and special education students.
Last year districts took their initial stab at the LCAP, a three-year planning document, updated annually, that’s required under the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s new school financing system. The LCAP regulations require districts to set goals for improvement and describe actions they’ll take and money they’ll spend to achieve them in eight priority areas. Those areas include the rollout of the new state academic standards, parent involvement, school climate and academic achievement, which includes test scores, passage rates on Advanced Placement exams and the rate of redesignating English learners as proficient in English. County offices of education review districts’ LCAPs to verify that districts meet legal requirements and allocate enough money to pay for the districts’ commitments.
Districts followed temporary regulations last year. They faced a six-month deadline to reach out to parents and the community for their suggestions to complete their LCAPs by July 1. After months of hearing suggestions and complaints about the LCAP process, the State Board of Education strengthened the requirements for parental and student participation and updated the template for filling out the LCAP. The LAO acknowledged that the new template should help create a cleaner, more comprehensible document. But it won’t make the LCAP any less complex; only the Legislature can revise the basic requirements.
Districts are required to address two dozen metrics and set goals for a dozen subgroups of students. They include not only English learners, low-income students and foster children, who get extra money under the new funding law, but also eight ethnic and racial groups and special education students. None of the districts met every statutory requirement, the report said.
The LAO said that such ambitious requirements can lead districts to pay more attention to metrics and details than to larger strategies for improvement. The Legislature should let districts choose their highest priorities, the report said, as well as address critical areas needing improvement. The State Board of Education is developing a set of “evaluation rubrics” that will guide districts and county offices of education in identifying deficient areas in an LCAP; they may include statewide levels of achievement that schools and districts must meet over time. The board’s deadline for adopting the evaluation rubrics is Oct. 1.
Other LAO recommendations for the Legislature include:
- Requiring districts to distinguish between ongoing and new actions. Many LCAPs didn’t do this, making it hard for the public to determine whether districts are using money to improve and increase services for high-needs students in proportion to the extra money districts received, as the LCAP law requires.
- Replacing or clarifying some of the metrics the Legislature requires since there are no statewide measurements of parent involvement or access to courses. Also, the Legislature should add more metrics for elementary schools, the report said.
- Directing the California Department of Education to publicize model LCAPs, including those that best describe and justify services for English learners and low-income children and those that concentrate on “overarching” goals, set clear targets and provide supporting data.
- Monitoring how districts are using additional resources and taking actions to serve English learners and low-income children, the chief beneficiaries of the new funding system. The LAO said many districts did not provide enough information in their LCAPs, often reiterating the same goals for English learners and low-income children as for all students. They also didn’t cite “clear or compelling rationales” for using supplemental dollars intended for high-needs students to pay districtwide and schoolwide expenses.
The LAO urges lawmakers to require LCAPs to cite all sources of funding that are going to English learners and low-income children, not just supplemental dollars under the funding formula. If, after a year of monitoring LCAPs, there is no improvement in the information provided, then the Legislature “could consider giving COEs (county offices of education) more authority to disapprove LCAPs that lack such detail.”
Reached for comment Tuesday, Brooks Allen, deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel for the state board, wrote, “We’ve only reviewed the report briefly so far, but remain very open to all suggestions for how to improve student outcomes through the (Local Control Funding Formula) and LCAPs. We appreciate that the LAO highlights the improved LCAP and Annual Update template that (districts) will use for the first time this year and are interested to see the results of the first full year of LCAP implementation.”
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