state board
ESSA approved following SBE meeting; Growth models further explored
With roughly $2.4 billion on the table for California’s lowest-performing schools, the State Board of Education made final changes to the Every Student Succeeds Act plan at its July 11 meeting. On Thursday, July 12, the U.S. Department of Education signed off on the changes and approved California’s plan, ending a tumultuous monthslong process of negotiations.

The state plan was developed over a two-year period with feedback and input from thousands of stakeholders.

ESSA approval brings with it funding for low-performing K-12 schools as well as funds for after-school programs, teacher training and migrant student aid. To meet the federal requirement for assessing a school outside of academics, California chose to focus on school suspensions for elementary and middle schools, and on suspensions and college and career readiness for high schools.

As part of the negotiations, the State Board agreed to move up the decision of how California will identify the lowest-performing low-income schools in need of help from 2019–20 to 2018–19. To receive the $2.4 billion in federal funding for ESSA, the state has to identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of low-income schools for support and aid — expected to be about 300–400 schools statewide.

California’s accountability system, the California School Dashboard, had complicated this process by focusing on improving underperforming school districts rather than individual schools as required by ESSA. California’s proposal had been to identify schools for additional targeted support and improvement based upon one or more “consistently underperforming” student groups in three out of four years. The revised state plan recognizes that schools will be identified for additional targeted assistance beginning in the 2018–19 school year based upon two consecutive years of data using the fall 2017 Dashboard and the 2018 Dashboard.

In comments and discussion, SBE members and stakeholders expressed a sense of urgency for the State Board to clarify what districts and schools will need to do once they are identified for assistance. They also voiced a shared concern that the state avoid requirements for redundant improvement plans while retaining a consistent focus on the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control and Accountability Plans.

California’s education officials cited the California School Dashboard as an important foundation for accountability and for ESSA.

“California has an ambitious plan to give additional resources to students with the greatest needs as we prepare all students for college and 21st-century careers,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said of the Dashboard. “The ESSA plan approved today will support those efforts.”

California has an ambitious plan to give additional resources to students with the greatest needs as we prepare all students for college and 21st-century careers.

— Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Tracking student achievement through growth models

In other actions at its July meeting, the SBE voted to further study the “growth models” approach to gauging student performance. To track students’ academic improvements on state assessments of English language arts and mathematics, California is currently using a model that centers on the school-wide average of test scores, aggregated by grade. That approach doesn’t allow for changes in a student population over time, critics say. Instead, education experts and advocacy organizations are encouraging the SBE to adopt a growth model approach that measures the academic improvement of individual students from year to year and will better yield information on effective school practices.

CSBA, consistent with its longstanding position, recommended the State Board continue to develop a growth model and reach out to California districts and to experts both in and outside of the state to gain a better understanding of the advantages of a growth model.

Three other issues were discussed as part of this item: Applying a safety net methodology to student groups (approved beginning with the 2018 Dashboard), a transition plan for inclusion of the English Learner Progress indicator to measure student progress towards proficiency (anticipated for 2020 Dashboard) and an update on improving the Dashboard.

The California Department of Education is initiating new work on improving the look and feel of the California School Dashboard and, along with the State Board, are convening stakeholders including CSBA to gather feedback.