One in 4 California school districts required to get county help based on new state performance data

December 7, 2017

Student at Skyline High School in Oakland

One in 4 California school districts received notice that they must work with county offices of education or with a new state agency to improve the education of at least one of their student groups that were ranked among the worst performers on the California School Dashboard, a new school and district grading system released on Thursday.

In two-thirds of the 228 districts designated for assistance, students receiving special education services were among student groups identified as performing very poorly. In half of the designated districts, students with disabilities were the only student group flagged.

The districts must now take a hard look, with help from the county or the new California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, at the factors behind the low achievement of students whose disabilities range from mild learning deficits to severe physical and emotional handicaps.

“With the Dashboard, California is shining a light on inequities by identifying the students that need the most help within a district and pinpointing their areas of challenge,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst in a press release. “These are students whose struggles would have been masked under a less comprehensive accountability system.”

The dashboard, which debuted last spring, gave schools and districts, as well as the public, a chance to familiarize themselves with the data and use it to guide priorities and spending for this year. The new data release provides more current information, including 2016-17 suspension and graduation rates, along with the results from last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts.

The updated dashboard also initiates county office- and state-guided support, the next step in the state’s school accountability system. Only districts, not individual schools, will receive assistance this year. Next month, the State Board of Education will designate for assistance in 2018-19 the lowest performing 300 low-income schools. The board will use slightly different criteria set by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In creating the dashboard, the Legislature sought to evaluate schools by more than standardized test scores. It included indicators of school climate and student engagement, which are among eight priorities that districts must address. To confront achievement gaps hidden behind averages for all students, the Legislature focused on results of individual student subgroups.

A focus on special education students is long overdue, said Arun Ramanathan, CEO of Pivot Learning, a nonprofit providing technical assistance to school districts in California. “The academic performance data on students with disabilities reflects nearly a decade of neglect at the state and local level to their needs, specifically in the area of reading instruction. California is woefully behind other states in adopting best practices in special education,” said Ramanathan who formerly oversaw special education services as Chief Student Services Officer for the San Diego Unified School District.

Students with disabilities were not alone in being ranked at the bottom on the dashboard:

Eight districts, including Sacramento City Unified and Twin Rivers in Sacramento County, Oakland Unified and Salinas Union High School District, have four student groups designated for assistance. In Konocti Unified, a 3,000-student rural district in Lake County, five student groups were designated: American Indian, African-American, white, homeless and low-income students.

Of California’s 58 county offices of education, 48 have districts requiring assistance, including Los Angeles (19 districts), Tulare (11) and San Diego (10). Ten county offices, either with few districts (Alpine and Sierra) or mostly wealthy districts (Napa and Marin) have no districts qualifying.

Districts designated for assistance

The following districts are designated by the state to receive assistance for the student subgroups indicated.

DistrictCountyNo. of SubgroupsStudent Subgroups
Konocti UnifiedLake5African American, American Indian, Homeless Students, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, White
Oakland UnifiedAlameda4African American, English Learner, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Del Norte County UnifiedDel Norte4American Indian, Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Palmdale ElementaryLos Angeles4African American, Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Salinas Union HighMonterey4African American, English Learner, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Sacramento City UnifiedSacramento4African American, Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Twin Rivers UnifiedSacramento4African American, Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Victor Valley Union HighSan Bernardino4English Learner, Foster Students, Multi-racial, Students With Disabilities
Esparto UnifiedYolo4English Learner, Latino, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, Students With Disabilities
Hayward UnifiedAlameda3Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Antioch UnifiedContra Costa3American Indian, Foster Students, Homeless Students
Mt. Diablo UnifiedContra Costa3African American, Foster Students, Homeless Students
Pittsburg UnifiedContra Costa3African American, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Fresno UnifiedFresno3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Willows UnifiedGlenn3English Learner, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Lost Hills Union ElementaryKern3English Learner, Latino, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Bonita UnifiedLos Angeles3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Anaheim Union HighOrange3English Learner, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Hemet UnifiedRiverside3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Moreno Valley UnifiedRiverside3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Perris Union HighRiverside3African American, English Learner, Foster Students
San Juan UnifiedSacramento3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Hesperia UnifiedSan Bernardino3African American, Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
East Side Union HighSanta Clara3Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Vallejo City UnifiedSolano3Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Santa Rosa City SchoolsSonoma3Foster Students, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Red Bluff Joint Union HighTehama3English Learner, Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Alpaugh UnifiedTulare3English Learner, Latino, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
San Lorenzo UnifiedAlameda2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Golden Feather Union ElementaryButte2Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, White
Calaveras UnifiedCalaveras2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
John Swett UnifiedContra Costa2African American, Students With Disabilities
Rio Dell ElementaryHumboldt2Latino, Students With Disabilities
Southern Humboldt Joint UnifiedHumboldt2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Lakeside UnionKern2African American, Students With Disabilities
Southern Kern UnifiedKern2African American, Students With Disabilities
Central Union ElementaryKings2American Indian, Students With Disabilities
Lakeport UnifiedLake2American Indian, Students With Disabilities
Big Valley Joint UnifiedLassen2Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, White
Inglewood UnifiedLos Angeles2African American, Students With Disabilities
Los Angeles UnifiedLos Angeles2Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Ukiah UnifiedMendocino2English Learner, Students With Disabilities
Willits UnifiedMendocino2American Indian, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Roseville Joint Union HighPlacer2English Learner, Students With Disabilities
Coachella Valley UnifiedRiverside2American Indian, Students With Disabilities
Elk Grove UnifiedSacramento2Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Adelanto ElementarySan Bernardino2Homeless Students, Multi-racial
Bear Valley UnifiedSan Bernardino2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Rialto UnifiedSan Bernardino2African American, Foster Students
Cajon Valley UnionSan Diego2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Grossmont Union HighSan Diego2Foster Students, Homeless Students
San Diego UnifiedSan Diego2Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Lodi UnifiedSan Joaquin2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Tracy Joint UnifiedSan Joaquin2Foster Students, Students With Disabilities
Ravenswood City ElementarySan Mateo2African American, Students With Disabilities
San Jose UnifiedSanta Clara2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Pajaro Valley UnifiedSanta Cruz2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Fairfield-Suisun UnifiedSolano2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Yuba City UnifiedSutter2African American, Homeless Students
Lindsay UnifiedTulare2Asian, Students With Disabilities
Dinuba UnifiedTulare2Homeless Students, Students With Disabilities
Woodlake UnifiedTulare2English Learner, Students With Disabilities
Alameda UnifiedAlameda1Students With Disabilities
Berkeley UnifiedAlameda1Homeless Students
Fremont UnifiedAlameda1Homeless Students
San Leandro UnifiedAlameda1Students With Disabilities
Amador County UnifiedAmador1Students With Disabilities
Durham UnifiedButte1Students With Disabilities
Thermalito Union ElementaryButte1Students With Disabilities
Gridley UnifiedButte1Students With Disabilities
Mark Twain Union ElementaryCalaveras1Students With Disabilities
Colusa UnifiedColusa1Students With Disabilities
Williams UnifiedColusa1Students With Disabilities
Byron Union ElementaryContra Costa1Students With Disabilities
Knightsen ElementaryContra Costa1Students With Disabilities
Martinez UnifiedContra Costa1Students With Disabilities
Oakley Union ElementaryContra Costa1Students With Disabilities
West Contra Costa UnifiedContra Costa1Students With Disabilities
El Dorado Union HighEl Dorado1Students With Disabilities
Mother Lode Union ElementaryEl Dorado1Students With Disabilities
Pollock Pines ElementaryEl Dorado1Students With Disabilities
Clovis UnifiedFresno1Students With Disabilities
Kings Canyon Joint UnifiedFresno1Students With Disabilities
Parlier UnifiedFresno1Students With Disabilities
Washington UnifiedFresno1Homeless Students
Orland Joint UnifiedGlenn1English Learner
Hamilton UnifiedGlenn1Students With Disabilities
Cutten ElementaryHumboldt1Students With Disabilities
South Bay Union ElementaryHumboldt1Students With Disabilities
Eureka City SchoolsHumboldt1Homeless Students
Bishop UnifiedInyo1Students With Disabilities
Bakersfield CityKern1Foster Students
Fairfax ElementaryKern1Students With Disabilities
Kern HighKern1American Indian
Kernville Union ElementaryKern1Students With Disabilities
Mojave UnifiedKern1Homeless Students
Norris ElementaryKern1Students With Disabilities
Standard ElementaryKern1Latino
Vineland ElementaryKern1Students With Disabilities
Wasco Union ElementaryKern1African American
Rio Bravo-Greeley Union ElementaryKern1Students With Disabilities
Sierra Sands UnifiedKern1Students With Disabilities
El Tejon UnifiedKern1Students With Disabilities
Lemoore Union ElementaryKings1Foster Students
Susanville ElementaryLassen1Students With Disabilities
Antelope Valley Union HighLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Arcadia UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Azusa UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Centinela Valley Union HighLos Angeles1Foster Students
Charter Oak UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Eastside Union ElementaryLos Angeles1Foster Students
El Monte Union HighLos Angeles1White
Lancaster ElementaryLos Angeles1Foster Students
Lynwood UnifiedLos Angeles1African American
Pasadena UnifiedLos Angeles1Foster Students
Rosemead ElementaryLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
West Covina UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
William S. Hart Union HighLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Compton UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Rowland UnifiedLos Angeles1Students With Disabilities
Mariposa County UnifiedMariposa1English Learner
Fort Bragg UnifiedMendocino1Students With Disabilities
Livingston UnionMerced1Students With Disabilities
Los Banos UnifiedMerced1African American
Merced City ElementaryMerced1Homeless Students
Planada ElementaryMerced1Students With Disabilities
WintonMerced1Students With Disabilities
Gustine UnifiedMerced1English Learner
Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint UnifiedMerced1Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Delhi UnifiedMerced1Students With Disabilities
Greenfield Union ElementaryMonterey1Students With Disabilities
King City UnionMonterey1Students With Disabilities
South Monterey County Joint Union HighMonterey1Students With Disabilities
Salinas City ElementaryMonterey1Students With Disabilities
Nevada Joint Union HighNevada1Students With Disabilities
Pleasant Ridge Union ElementaryNevada1Students With Disabilities
Penn Valley Union ElementaryNevada1Students With Disabilities
Anaheim ElementaryOrange1Foster Students
Saddleback Valley UnifiedOrange1Foster Students
Loomis Union ElementaryPlacer1English Learner
Plumas UnifiedPlumas1Students With Disabilities
Beaumont UnifiedRiverside1Students With Disabilities
Desert Sands UnifiedRiverside1Students With Disabilities
Nuview UnionRiverside1Students With Disabilities
Riverside UnifiedRiverside1Students With Disabilities
San Jacinto UnifiedRiverside1Students With Disabilities
Lake Elsinore UnifiedRiverside1Foster Students
River Delta Joint UnifiedSacramento1Students With Disabilities
Robla ElementarySacramento1African American
Alta Loma ElementarySan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Barstow UnifiedSan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Cucamonga ElementarySan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Fontana UnifiedSan Bernardino1Foster Students
Helendale ElementarySan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Morongo UnifiedSan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Mountain View ElementarySan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Needles UnifiedSan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
Rim of the World UnifiedSan Bernardino1Students With Disabilities
San Bernardino City UnifiedSan Bernardino1Foster Students
Lucerne Valley UnifiedSan Bernardino1Homeless Students
Alpine Union ElementarySan Diego1Students With Disabilities
La Mesa-Spring ValleySan Diego1Students With Disabilities
National ElementarySan Diego1Students With Disabilities
Ramona City UnifiedSan Diego1Students With Disabilities
San Ysidro ElementarySan Diego1Students With Disabilities
Vista UnifiedSan Diego1Foster Students
Oceanside UnifiedSan Diego1Homeless Students
San Francisco UnifiedSan Francisco1Foster Students
Jefferson ElementarySan Joaquin1Students With Disabilities
Lincoln UnifiedSan Joaquin1Students With Disabilities
Stockton UnifiedSan Joaquin1Students With Disabilities
Lucia Mar UnifiedSan Luis Obispo1Students With Disabilities
Paso Robles Joint UnifiedSan Luis Obispo1Students With Disabilities
Bayshore ElementarySan Mateo1English Learner
San Mateo Union HighSan Mateo1Homeless Students
Sequoia Union HighSan Mateo1Pacific Islander
South San Francisco UnifiedSan Mateo1Students With Disabilities
Buellton Union ElementarySanta Barbara1Students With Disabilities
Lompoc UnifiedSanta Barbara1Foster Students
Orcutt Union ElementarySanta Barbara1Students With Disabilities
Santa Barbara UnifiedSanta Barbara1Students With Disabilities
Alum Rock Union ElementarySanta Clara1Students With Disabilities
Morgan Hill UnifiedSanta Clara1Students With Disabilities
Orchard ElementarySanta Clara1Students With Disabilities
Santa Clara UnifiedSanta Clara1Students With Disabilities
San Lorenzo Valley UnifiedSanta Cruz1Students With Disabilities
Santa Cruz City HighSanta Cruz1Homeless Students
Soquel Union ElementarySanta Cruz1Students With Disabilities
Anderson Union HighShasta1Homeless Students
Enterprise ElementaryShasta1Students With Disabilities
Happy Valley Union ElementaryShasta1Students With Disabilities
Pacheco Union ElementaryShasta1Students With Disabilities
Redding ElementaryShasta1Students With Disabilities
Gateway UnifiedShasta1Students With Disabilities
Yreka Union ElementarySiskiyou1Students With Disabilities
Dixon UnifiedSolano1Students With Disabilities
Vacaville UnifiedSolano1Homeless Students
Cloverdale UnifiedSonoma1Students With Disabilities
Piner-Olivet Union ElementarySonoma1Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Sonoma Valley UnifiedSonoma1Students With Disabilities
Windsor UnifiedSonoma1Students With Disabilities
Ceres UnifiedStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Chatom UnionStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Empire Union ElementaryStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Hart-Ransom Union ElementaryStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Keyes UnionStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Patterson Joint UnifiedStanislaus1Homeless Students
Hughson UnifiedStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Oakdale Joint UnifiedStanislaus1Students With Disabilities
Live Oak UnifiedSutter1Students With Disabilities
Meridian ElementarySutter1Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Red Bluff Union ElementaryTehama1Homeless Students
Burton ElementaryTulare1Students With Disabilities
Cutler-Orosi Joint UnifiedTulare1Students With Disabilities
Terra Bella Union ElementaryTulare1English Learner
Tulare CityTulare1African American
Visalia UnifiedTulare1Foster Students
Farmersville UnifiedTulare1Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Exeter UnifiedTulare1Students With Disabilities
Summerville ElementaryTuolumne1Students With Disabilities
Big Oak Flat-Groveland UnifiedTuolumne1Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Fillmore UnifiedVentura1Students With Disabilities
Hueneme ElementaryVentura1Students With Disabilities
OxnardVentura1Homeless Students
Oxnard Union HighVentura1Foster Students
Washington UnifiedYolo1Students With Disabilities
Marysville Joint UnifiedYuba1Homeless Students
Plumas Lake ElementaryYuba1Students With Disabilities

Source: California Department of Education / EdSource

Any subgroup performing in the red, the lowest of the five color bands on the dashboard, on at least two of the priorities qualified for help. The indicators were student suspension rates (school climate), test scores on the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English and a measure of English learners’ progress in learning English (academic achievement) and high school graduation rates (student engagement).

With the exception of about 10 percent of students with severe disabilities who take an alternative test, special education students take the Smarter Balanced tests; it’s not surprising that they don’t do, as a group, as well as other students. Their graduation rate also lags. But parents and rights advocates argue achievement could be higher, with better services, higher expectations and earlier diagnosis of learning issues.

The dashboard will shine a light on other factors contributing to underperformance: chronic absenteeism for special education students is nearly twice the statewide average, and suspension rates are higher than average as well.

“Taking a look at the big picture, including how you are providing adequate and early interventions, makes a lot of sense,” said Maureen Burness, co-executive director of the Statewide Special Education Task Force, which issued a report recommending significant changes in how students with disabilities are identified, taught and funded in 2015. “To tweak the edges will not fix the big problem.”

‘Doing with, not doing to’

The support that districts will receive, called “technical” or “differentiated” assistance, will be starkly different from the prescriptive programs imposed under the No Child Left Behind Act — and state-appointed teams of experts, under the state versions preceding the Act. Teachers and administrators resented programs they viewed as punitive, and researchers found top-down reforms for the most part didn’t work.

In the accountability provisions of the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula, the Legislature stressed partnerships. County offices would provide guidance, but districts and teachers would choose actions and directions for change.

“Rather than ‘doing to,’ as in the past, the current approach is premised on ‘doing with’ because it is more likely to lead to sustained improvement,” Kirst, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and Carl Cohn, executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, wrote in a letter that went to all districts receiving assistance. The Legislature created the California Collaborative as a semi-autonomous state agency to coordinate the overall assistance effort.

“This approach will be a collaboration,” said Josh Daniels, the agency’s director of outreach and training, who is also a Berkeley Unified school board member. “It sounds fluffy, but it is harder when a school district must implement change, instead of change coming from the outside. It will be a challenge — but we believe in the philosophy underlying local control.”

The California Collaborative initially will concentrate much of its attention on students with disabilities. In February, it will create what it’s calling a Professional Learning Network Collective to identify innovations and model practices in special education and share them with districts, as outlined in this recent presentation to the State Board of Education.

Daniels and county leaders caution there will be no quick fix. During the next few months, county and district teams will do a high-level analysis of the dashboard data to identify strengths and weaknesses. They will bring others into the conversation — teachers and parents perhaps, and, for districts focusing on students with disabilities, the regional agencies that oversee special education services, called Special Education Local Plan Areas, or SELPAs.

After the initial analysis, districts can continue with their county teams or look elsewhere, to other counties, the California Collaborative or nonprofit providers with more expertise. They may join one of 56 interdistrict networks that the California Collaborative has set up with state funding.

Working through the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, county offices have been working together for more a year on creating a uniform process. Dozens of administrators have prepared a 127-page Facilitators Guide on how to lead an open-ended, constructive dialogue, said Jean Madden-Cazares, director of district school Improvement for the San Diego County Office of Education, who oversaw the effort. Three hundred county officials have taken multi-day trainings by the Palo Alto-based Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the national leader in what’s called improvement science, the exacting, data-focused process demanding persistence and patience through cycles of actions and revisions.

What is ‘continuous improvement’?

The approach commonly is called “continuous improvement” and California is betting big that it will result in sustained improvements — over time.

But the sheer number of districts to be served and the newness of the approach will create a daunting challenge for many of the state’s 58 county offices of education, some of which are tiny and serve one district, like the Alpine County office, while others, like the Los Angeles County office, serve dozens of districts.

Fresno Unified has demonstrated that continuous improvement can bring results. Working with Carnegie, it increased the number of student applications to California State University and University of California by 50 percent after settling, over two years, on strategies that involved training counselors and providing students more timely information. The charter school organization High Tech High took a similar approach, with strong results, as described here.

But in a report titled “Continuous Improvement in Practice” by the nonprofit Policy Analysis for California Education, researchers concluded that despite high aspirations, “there is also wide acknowledgement that continuous improvement is not happening at scale in the state. Even among districts that would describe themselves as farther along, very few reported that they had seen improvements in student outcomes.”

The authors cited several challenges:

Daniels said there may be no visible impact in the first six to 12 months of work; changing a culture in a district takes time. “Trying to force things immediately will not lead to the type of long-term success that we really need,” he said.

This week, the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of students in low-performing schools in Los Angeles and Stockton, charging that the state had failed to teach students to read and write. It called for the state to step in to provide and monitor a policy ensuring literacy is taught well. The lawsuit indirectly challenges local control and the improvement approach launched this week; it is a reminder the public and perhaps judges could become impatient with a strategy characterized by the adage “going slow to go fast.”

El Dorado County Superintendent Ed Manansala, president-elect of the county superintendents association, said that the new approach is “complex but promising. Every year we will be looking at individual subgroup performance that cannot be hidden. That will create a healthy sense of urgency.”

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