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The state doesn't currently collect statewide surveys measuring school climate and student engagement. Parents and advocacy groups would like it to and use the results as part of a school accountability system.

The California Board of Education is facing some tough choices – and heavy lobbying from parent groups and student advocates – as it works its way toward approving a new school accountability system that meets federal mandates and the vision of Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in passing the Local Control Funding Formula.

At issue are the measurements the state will use to determine which schools and districts must receive technical assistance for specific areas of weakness, and which chronically low-performing schools will require more intensive intervention directed toward all students or specific student subgroups, such as English learners and disabled students.

Congress, in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act in December, required that states build their school evaluation systems using three common metrics: high school graduation rates; progress of English learners in becoming proficient in English, and achievement in English language arts and math, for which California will use the results of the Smarter Balanced tests in grades 3-8 and 11.

Congress is also requiring states to choose an additional indicator for K-8 achievement. The state board will likely select either middle school dropout rates, for which data can be problematic, or a blend of reading proficiency in 3rd grade and 8th grade math – two early indicators that point to whether students are on track for college.

Congress additionally has asked states to designate at least one more non-academic metric of their choosing. For members of the state board, this presents the opportunity to redefine school accountability from a system that was strictly based on standardized test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to one offering a multi-dimensional look at student achievement, school culture and college and career preparation.

Adopting a staff recommendation, the state board last week essentially narrowed down the list of suggestions for a non-academic measure. It designated three for further data analysis:

  • Student suspension rates;
  • A combination of college and career readiness factors;
  • A combination of data measuring safe and adequate facilities, textbook distribution and employment of qualified teachers for all students.

Only these metrics, the staff said, would meet four criteria needed for a valid measurement: the information is currently collected, consistently defined, can be broken down by school and subgroup and is backed by research.

Calls for a school climate measure

But in lengthy testimony earlier this month (see webcast, item 23, starting at minute 55), dozens of parents and students – organized by low-income student advocacy groups – pressed the state board to add other measures in the future. Those include rates of chronic absenteeism and measures of school climate and active parent involvement – vital indicators, they said, of conditions needed for successful learning.

Luis Sanchez of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color calls for the state board to include school climate as a key metric in measuring school performance.

Source: California Board of Education webcast.

Luis Sanchez (right) of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color calls for the state board to include school climate as a key metric in measuring school performance.

“School climate matters. When districts, schools and the state make it a priority, suspensions decrease, and academic achievement rises,” Luis Sanchez, an organizer for the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, told the state board, with students holding “School Climate Matters” placards standing behind him.

Parents and advocates urged the board to signal to districts the importance of student well-being and parent engagement by giving them a placeholder status.

“If it (data) is not here now, that doesn’t mean that it will never be here,” said Patty Scripter, liaison for the California State PTA.

The Local Control Funding Formula, which Brown and the Legislature passed in 2013, takes a broad view of school performance and student success. The law established eight priority areas, including parent involvement and student engagement, that districts must address annually in their Local Control and Accountability Plans.

In listing nearly two dozen metrics to measure progress in the eight priority areas, the LCAP template requires districts to take surveys of parents, students and teachers for their views of school safety and “school connectedness.” (**see note on correction) Many districts use surveys the California Healthy Kids Survey and the California School Parent Survey. Starting this fall, the CORE districts – a nine-district collaborative including Los Angeles, Fresno, Long Beach and San Francisco – will include results of their own student surveys as part of their school index covering social and emotional factors in learning.

Last month, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 2527, which would establish a committee of educators and advocacy groups to create model school surveys for a statewide accountability metric. That’s what Public Advocates, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and Californians for Justice, the advocacy groups co-sponsoring the bill, hope will happen.

Chronic absenteeism may become the first to make the board’s wait list. Although the state doesn’t currently centrally collect chronic absenteeism data, the Every Student Succeeds Act will require it to. As a result, state Department of Education staff have earmarked it for future consideration as a key indicator.

And at the board meeting this month, board member Trish Williams, a fervent advocate for the state’s newly adopted Next Generation Science Standards, called for science education to be added in the future, too. She said to include scores for English language arts and math but exclude the scores for the science assessment – or another metric of districts’ commitment to science instruction – would lead to “déjà vu:” a return to the NCLB era, when many districts abandoned science, because schools were pressured to raise their reading and math scores.

Affluent districts will continue to offer science, but without a solid K-5 and middle school science foundation, minority students, she said, will be denied challenging science courses in high school. So send a message now, she said, when districts are deciding whether to make the new standards a priority, even if new standardized tests won’t be ready for several years.

The Legislature has set an October deadline for the state board to adopt a set of “evaluation rubrics” that spell out uniform performance and improvement goals for the eight priority areas. The key indicators required by Congress and chosen by the state board will top the list.

The state board is expected to choose the final metric in May, giving staff two months to crunch data to make their recommendation.

** Correction: An earlier version stated that state law encourages district to conduct surveys of students, parents and teachers on school safety. State Education Code 52060 requires that they do. Districts can create their own versions; surveys would have to be standardized to become a statewide metric. 


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  1. Kristin Majda 6 months ago6 months ago

    Measuring effectiveness of school site council's is a good way to establish accountability at the school level. The state prescribes that school site councils, which are comprised of 50% teachers/school staff and 50% parents/community members, work together to develop the school plan and then evaluate the effectiveness of the programs in that plan on an ongoing basis, updating the school plan as needed. It's a continuous improvement cycle. However, in California the only legally granted … Read More

    Measuring effectiveness of school site council’s is a good way to establish accountability at the school level. The state prescribes that school site councils, which are comprised of 50% teachers/school staff and 50% parents/community members, work together to develop the school plan and then evaluate the effectiveness of the programs in that plan on an ongoing basis, updating the school plan as needed. It’s a continuous improvement cycle.

    However, in California the only legally granted powers that school site councils have are over specific budget decisions in Title 1 schools. School site councils are really the only avenue parents have to be involved in school governance yet they are only granted an advisory roll that holds little meaning. In most school site councils, the principal writes the school site plan with little or no input from the school site council, briefly presents it to the school site council at a meeting in the fall, and then expects them to vote to approve it with little or no input. No continuous evaluation of performance data occurs during the remainder of the school year.

    However, if the state made into law the recommendations outlined in its “Single Plan for Student Achievement-Part 1: A Guide for Developing the Single Plan for Student Achievement” and developed metrics for districts to use to measure school compliance, then districts would be forced to provide sufficient training for principals and school site councils on continuous process improvement. They also would be forced to involve parents and the community in a meaningful way in school governance, and schools would be held accountable at the site level for doing so. School Site Council is an already established vehicle for continuous process improvement that is currently impotent because schools are not legally mandated to follow the states already established, well thought out guidelines. Rather than reinvent the wheel, why not empower an already good idea?

  2. Larry 6 months ago6 months ago

    The politicians should try adequately funding California education and see if that helps?
    40-45th in US education funding is appalling!

  3. Katie 6 months ago6 months ago

    What about measuring student happiness? If students are feeling successful and supported, they’ll be happy. How do you measure happiness? Usually constructive creativity is a biproduct of happiness.

  4. richard Moore 6 months ago6 months ago

    Where are the evaluation rubrics for the schools? Never mind the kids. In CA right now the ony requirement for staffing a school is that it has a principal and a secretary. Are the kids fed? Do they have access to a public library branch close by? Do they have a school librarian? A Nurse? A counselor? You are wasting everyone's time if all you do is set the bar higher for … Read More

    Where are the evaluation rubrics for the schools? Never mind the kids. In CA right now the ony requirement for staffing a school is that it has a principal and a secretary. Are the kids fed? Do they have access to a public library branch close by? Do they have a school librarian? A Nurse? A counselor? You are wasting everyone’s time if all you do is set the bar higher for kids and don’t have standards for the school.

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