State Board
January meeting moves forward state literacy plan and ESSA amendments
Board discusses possibility of waiver for 2020–21 standardized testing
Now almost a year since COVID-19 took hold in the United States, local, state and federal policymakers continue to grapple with how to ensure students receive equitable learning opportunities in a distance learning setting. Those challenges, including concerns about administering statewide assessments, were just one of the topics discussed at the January 13–14 State Board of Education meeting. The SBE also moved forward the State Literacy Plan and provided some flexibility for identifying schools in need of support in the 2021–22 school year.

State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond opened the meeting addressing equity in distance learning and beyond, saying how California moves forward in developing the future of education will be crucial to improving student outcomes long term.

“California has an opportunity to use the disruption created by the pandemic to make schools more equitable, more socially responsive and more academically engaging than some of them may have been before,” Darling-Hammond said.

Specifically, Darling-Hammond said the devastating impact of the pandemic and the related widespread increases in job loss, mental and physical health concerns, housing and food insecurity and other challenges have highlighted the vital role that schools play in the lives of children, their families and communities. Local educational agencies will need to provide both academic and social-emotional resources, as well as work to connect families to social services — a statement echoed by other board members throughout the two-day meeting.

She applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom for including in his 2020–21 budget proposal $300 million for student mental health and community schools, as well as school climate surveys to help LEAs identify student needs. Community schools — which were featured in the summer 2020 issue of California Schools magazine — can play a huge role in reducing the impacts of the pandemic by connecting families to needed services and addressing the welfare of each child by making sure they’re connected to and engaged with schools, Darling-Hammond explained.

CSBA and other education leaders and advocates have argued that while there are some upsides to the Governor’s budget proposal, the Safe Schools for All plan that aims to expedite school reopenings, at best, places unrealistic expectations on LEAs working to keep students and families safe amid another statewide COVID surge.

“California has an opportunity to use the disruption created by the pandemic to make schools more equitable, more socially responsive and more academically engaging.
Linda Darling-Hammond, State Board President
Given the surge in the most-populated areas of the state, the SBE discussed pursuing a waiver from the federal government to forego standardized testing, as was done in the 2020–21 school year. “It would be educational malpractice to require LEAs to provide results of assessments that really are seriously in jeopardy of being valid going forward,” said board member Sue Burr. “It’s important to make a strong statement about how we feel about that.” The issue was not voted upon during the meeting.
California State Literacy Plan moves closer to final adoption
Feedback was provided on California’s draft State Literacy Plan — a key deliverable for the federal Comprehensive Literacy State Development grant program, from which the state received approximately $37.5 million in September 2019.

The goal of the grant is to help the state better leverage and expand existing infrastructure, guidance and expertise to improve student literacy outcomes from birth through grade 12. Board Vice President Ilene Straus said that the plan has continued to get better and more comprehensive as more stakeholder input was incorporated. Following public comment during discussion of the item, board member Patricia Rucker noted that it’s important to differentiate between state-level planning and what additional details stakeholders would like to see from LEAs in their implementation of the plan at the local level.

“Our goal is to make sure at this level that the plan clearly outlines the intent, the purpose, the functions and most importantly the overall outcomes for the funded LEAs and entities that will be working to implement the plan,” Rucker said. “The level of specificity about reading science and about instruction — that becomes a more granular discussion among those entities that will actually be doing this literacy work.”

Rucker stated that what she would like to see added to the plan — and that may satisfy some of the concerns being raised among stakeholders — is a clear outline of how LEAs that receive grant funding will be held accountable for student outcomes.

The California Department of Education will revise the plan based on input from the board and present an updated draft during the State Board’s March meeting with a recommendation for final approval.

Additional flexibility provided through new waivers
The board approved the submission of the year’s amendments for California’s Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan and COVID-19 State Plan Addendum to the U.S. Department of Education. These items, already approved by the U.S. Department of Education, included changes to the status cut scores for Dashboard Alternative School Status schools for both the academic rate and graduation rate indicators, as well as the timeline for identifying schools in need of comprehensive or additional targeted support using data from the 2020–21 school year. Straus noted that she agreed with the decision not to identify any new schools as being in need of support at this time, as every school has been dealing with the challenges posed by the pandemic and remote learning since last spring.

Read the full State Board Report at The next State Board virtual meeting is scheduled for March 17–18, 2021.