New twist on accountability: focus on existing reports
(Calif.) Rather than creating new tools for evaluating school performance, state officials appear to be focused on using a number of existing academic and fiscal reports to help explain how well schools are meeting new educational benchmarks.
The School Accountability Report Card, for instance, provides a wide range of performance data including academic scoring, teacher certification and facility status. There are also annual fiscal audits that are being considered as part of the new system along with charter petitions.
The California State Board of Education is set next month to consider the plan to integrate ongoing reporting requirements with the eight educational priorities outlined in Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, the remodeled education finance system.
Mike Kirst, president of the state board said the intent is to create a system of local accountability that is also transparent to the community when it comes to spending decisions and evaluating performance.
“The next step is to align the state accountability system with the LCFF priorities and the work that is underway in counties, districts and charter schools to support improved student outcomes,” he said.
The policy framework being proposed for public discussion follows several years’ worth of research, debate and legal wrangling that initially began with the idea of reforming the previous school accountability measurement tool, the Academic Performance Index or API.
Simultaneous to that work, the state was also transitioning to new national education standards and assessments that focus more heavily on preparing students not only for college but the job market as well – an outcome not necessarily measured by standardized testing. Because of the conversion to Common Core standards and SmarterBalanced assessments, the state board suspended the API, which draws from only student test scores aligned to outdated curriculum.
In working to identify and choose multiple, reliable indicators of college and career readiness, state staff also undertook a review of existing school accountability requirements and how those might be used to meet student achievement goals under the LCFF.
In an Aug. 17 memo to state board members, staff summarizes a list of existing accountability components and points out how each meets or aligns with one or more of the eight state priorities in the LCFF.
The ideals considered by staff to be “most aligned” to the priorities are those developed as a result of the settlement agreement reached in Eliezer Williams, et al., vs. State of California, et al.
Considered one of the state’s most bitter legal contests over education adequacy, the Williams case was filed in 2000 on behalf of more than one million inner city students attending schools where upkeep of facilities was in question along with distribution of textbooks and assignment of qualified teachers.
Former Gov. Gray Davis fought the allegations but when Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in 2003 he began settlement negotiations with a final agreement coming a year later. The agreement resulted in a package of legislative proposals designed to ensure that all students receive sufficient instructional materials, that school facilities are kept in good repair and that teachers are appropriately assigned.
Among the statutes created as a result of Williams was a requirement that schools include specific information related to the settlement in their annual SARCs – an accountability mandate added to the California Constitution by voters in 1988.
As the “primary academic and fiscal accountability component,” according to the staff memo, the SARC includes 38 data tables and narrative descriptions related to school climate and facilities, teacher qualifications, curriculum quality, availability of textbooks and school finances, among others.
Staff wrote that the SARC is only “somewhat aligned” to the LCFF priorities and is “in need of modification,” though they don’t go into further detail in the memo.
Charter school petitions, required of school organizers and the authorizing entity, are considered “aligned” to the LCFF for various components that include “a description of annual goals and actions to achieve those goals for each state priority schoolwide…”
Annual Independent Audits, another state requirement, review a variety of district data including attendance reporting, teacher certifications and assignments, instructional time and materials, independent study, and unduplicated LCFF pupil counts.
Exactly how each component is weighted, or measured, and ultimately woven into a streamlined accountability program has yet to be determined, but it appears that policy makers may at last be zeroing in on the “multiple measures” they believe will reveal school and student progress – or lack thereof.