More than 300 nonprofit groups, individuals and business organizations urged Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday to sign legislation that would require the State Board of Education to rank schools’ and school districts’ academic performance using an overall rating, a model the state board and the state Department of Finance oppose.
The request was in a letter that was sent to Brown one day before the board is expected to approve a new school evaluation system that shifts away from a reliance on standardized test scores. The new system is designed to be more comprehensive by including additional factors, among them high school graduation rates, suspension rates, a measure of college and career readiness, and harder-to-quantify “local” indicators on parent involvement and implementation of academic standards.
In passing Assembly Bill 2548, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, the Assembly and the Senate unanimously endorsed that approach. And the groups, in signing the letter, emphasized their overall support, too. But the bill would also require the board to consolidate the results of the individual performance indicators in an overall school rating that would let parents compare schools and districts while giving a simpler picture of how well their school is doing.
“AB 2548 would ensure transparent and meaningful comparison across schools and districts with respect to a baseline set of measures,” the letter, organized by the student advocacy group Children Now, says.
But that’s a step that the state board so far has resisted. The board is leaning toward a more complex dashboard design that gives equal weight and visibility to each indicator and spells out results by student subgroups with color ratings (see example). All of this information, state board President Michael Kirst wrote in a recent EdSource commentary, will allow “parents, educators and the public to access a wealth of information, with the option of focusing on specific information they believe is most valuable” so that they can “hold their schools accountable for any problem areas.” Averaging the indicators to create a single score undercuts the value of multiple measures, he argued.
With AB 2548, the Legislature has sided with U.S. Secretary of Education John King and the U.S. Department of Education, which also disagrees with the state board’s approach. Proposed regulations for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal school accountability law, would appear to require states to create a summary school rating system in order to designate the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools requiring state assistance. Kirst and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wrote King opposing that provision, which would also require giving more weight to test scores than to other indicators, like college and career readiness. And they have some allies in Congress, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who argued that King is overreaching his authority under the new law.
Some civil rights groups disagree with Children Now on AB 2548. “The bill would narrow the new accountability system by overemphasizing a few academic indicators over the multiple measures that state board has adopted,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates.
AB 2548 would codify the federal draft regulations into state law, which is one reason the state Department of Finance opposes Weber’s bill, calling it “premature and duplicative” of the state board’s effort to create an accountability system that satisfies federal and state laws. The federal government may amend the draft regulations, and the state board hasn’t yet presented its state plan for the federal law, the department noted. That will happen in November.
Both the state board and the advocacy organizations assert that their approaches best serve the interest of parents. One of the signers of the letter, Seth Litt, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, said that he’s not calling for a return to a single school ranking, like a letter grade or a number, which the state used under its former system, the Academic Performance Index. “It can be three or four broad rating categories that say your school is in the bottom 20 percent, the top 20 percent or somewhere in the middle.” The alternative is for parents to get lost in a sea of data without a sense of how their school is generally doing, he said.
Children Now says there should be room for compromise — if the state board is willing to budge. In a lengthy paper last month, it laid out several models that would group related state indicators together, such as those dealing with academic achievement or school climate. Doing so would keep the benefits of multiple measures while giving composite ratings.
“We need to make sure the state doesn’t simply load up scores of local indicators and minimize the importance of the key statewide indicators — student achievement, school climate and college and career readiness,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now.
The board could consider these options in coming months. Meanwhile, Brown must decide whether to sign AB 2548. Since Kirst and the Department of Finance usually are in sync with his views, there’s a good chance he’ll veto it.