State board gets extra year to create measures of school progress

June 22, 2015
teacher with students

The Legislature has given the State Board of Education an extra year to complete the next phase of a new school accountability system required by the state’s 2-year-old funding law.

The state board had requested more time, which legislators included in Assembly Bill 104 (section 22), the catch-all “trailer bill” that enacts the state budget details into law. The trailer bill also is a way to expedite non-controversial issues that need quick action.

For months, the board has been struggling with an Oct. 1 deadline for adopting a set of “evaluation rubrics,” a set of uniform student and school performance standards. The Legislature mandated that the state board establish the standards and ultimately hold districts accountable for meeting them.

An example would be a statewide rate for high school graduation. The board would decide whether the target should be, say, 80, 85 or 90 percent and then require that districts report rates by school and student subgroups. Other likely metrics would be dropout rates and the percentage of students who graduate qualifying for admission to a four-year state university. The current rates in all of the measures vary widely by school and district, and by race and ethnicity. The state board would set not only realistic overall targets but also ways to measure progress toward the target for schools, districts and subgroups.

In writing the new finance law – the Local Control Funding Formula – the Legislature set eight academic priorities and said there should be evaluation rubrics for each of them, without specifying the number of standards. The Legislature also required districts to use the same metrics to determine  annual performance goals in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, which they are supposed to write after consulting with parents and teachers.

“For too many years, policy makers have picked numbers out of the air, like the 100 percent proficiency. We need to know how valid and reliable the metrics are and the research base behind them,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst.

Some of the eight priorities, like raising student achievement, have many metrics to choose from, including annual scores of the new Common Core exam, which will be reported this summer, or results on statewide science tests or high school Advanced Placement exams. Other priorities, such as parent involvement, student engagement and a district’s implementation of the new Common Core and science standards, have metrics that either may be difficult to quantify and compare statewide or, in the state board’s view, may be best left to schools and districts to determine, based on their own circumstances. One school’s priority for student engagement in an LCAP might be to increase participation in after-school clubs, while another school’s focus might be to reduce fighting and bullying.

“For too many years, policy makers have picked numbers out of the air, like the 100 percent proficiency” in English language arts and math that Congress adopted under the No Child Left Behind law, said state board President Michael Kirst. “We need to know how valid and reliable the metrics are and the research base behind them.”

In their discussions, board members reached a consensus that the goal of the evaluation rubrics should be self-improvement, not punishment, with outside intervention as a last resort. They don’t want to re-create the federal system with many trip wires leading to sanctions, which encourages gamesmanship, such as weeks of narrowly focused test prep, to avoid them. “There are a lot of lessons from NCLB we do not want to repeat,” Kirst said.

At the same time, a coalition of civil rights and children’s advocacy groups have been pressing the state board to keep the focus on equity and closing gaps in achievement among underperforming groups of children: African-Americans, Hispanics, low-income children and English learners. In an February letter to the state board, the coalition said the board should adopt both performance targets ­– the bar that all districts and schools must shoot for – and improvement targets, how much they need to grow within a set time to close the achievement gap.

In coming months, Kirst said the state board will deal with a range of issues. Among them, it will explore:

Evaluation rubrics will serve as guides for districts in setting goals in their LCAPs and for county offices of education, which review the LCAPs, in measuring progress. After the state board has established the rubrics, it will then move to the final phase: establishing timelines for schools and districts to meet the standards and the consequences for failing to do so. That could take the form of partnering low- and high-performing schools or ultimately, for chronically failing schools, a state-directed takeover.

The delay with the rubrics will extend the hiatus between the old and new state accountability systems. In switching to the Smarter Balanced standardized tests on the Common Core State Standards, the Legislature has suspended for at least two years the Academic Performance Index, a three-digit number that rated schools and districts based on test scores. The state board must decide whether to re-create or absorb the index in a multiple-measure system.

In the interim, Kirst said that the public will continue to measure districts’ and schools’ performance through the LCAPs and by the results of the Smarter Balanced tests in English language arts and math, which will be released in late summer.

Kirst said board members agreed that a year extension might be necessary, and some of the advocacy organizations wrote the Legislature supporting it. Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, confirmed that in an email. “It makes sense to provide more time to make sure the rubrics are done right, but it’s critical that the Board stay focused on providing transparency on where students and schools are succeeding and struggling,” he wrote.

The legislation gives the board until Oct. 1, 2016 to adopt the rubrics. That will require the state board to present the package at its July 2016 meeting – a deadline that Kirst said the board will meet.


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