Thursday, August 31, 2017

Non profit analysis states education proposal has problems

source: The Willits News 8/30/2017

A national nonpartisan nonprofit commended the development of the state’s plan for student success designed to comply with the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but criticized its lack of a clear implementation process according to a report released last week.

“California’s plan includes several weaknesses that will limit its ability to effectively communicate with educators, parents, and other stakeholders,” the report hstates.
According to the report by the Boston-based nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners in collaboration with the Collaborative for Student Success, while the state appears to have solicited and utilized stakeholder feedback in the development of the plan and has also adopted high-quality standards and assessments, it is unclear how the state’s proposal for a “dashboard” accountability system will be gauged and incorporated into a comprehensive measure of school quality.

The U.S. Department of Education made public specific provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act after then president Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 10, 2015.
The law, among other provisions, advanced equity by upholding critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students, ensured that vital information was provided to educators, families, students and communities through annual statewide assessments and maintained an expectation that there would be accountability to effect positive change in low performing schools.

One specific concern outlined by the report is the state’s inability to completely spell out its approach to identify low-performing schools, which it says it will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in January 2018.
“The current method of measuring growth does not actually capture individual students’ improvement over time,” the report states. “Instead, it only tracks year-over-year changes at the school level, which is susceptible to differences in the student population enrolled in a given year.”

The report ranks the plan on a five point scale in nine categories. California earned low ratings in several of the plan’s component including a score of 2 for its overall vision articulated in the state’s academic goal for all student subgroups to achieve and sustain high performance.
“The state may find it somewhat difficult to quantify and track district, school and student progress towards realizing it,” the report states, adding the goal of all students achieving and maintaining high academic performance is tied to scoring high on state exams, which corresponds with meeting standards.


“The state has not yet determined the time frame over which schools must achieve this goal, or the time frame for schools identified for improvement to make sufficient progress. As such, it’s impossible to know if this goal is ambitious or achievable,” the report states.
The Bellwether Report also questioned the state’s plan to identify schools for comprehensive support and its methodology for identifying student groups most in need of targeted support.
The plan scored a 1 on this specific category because according to the analysis, “California has not clearly articulated how it will combine a school’s various scores across multiple indicators.”

The state’s proposal is based on multiple tiers of matrices designed to track performance levels using the School Dashboard. The average status score is a school that achieves around level three on an the state assessment, these schools are colored yellow. The average change score is also colored yellow and corresponds with little or no change from last year. For both these measures, the highest scores are colored green and blue, while the lowest are red.
The report said the current approach could potentially ignore some very low performing schools, for example, a high school could score red in both achievement and graduation rates but not be identified if it scored yellow on suspension rates.

Additionally, the state ranked poorly on the academic progress category, with a score of 1. The report points out there is little incentive for schools already performing above the state’s goals to reach toward higher levels, particularly because schools can score slightly worse performance from the first year to the next and still qualify as achieving its growth goals.
The state did however score high on the standards and assessments category with a score of 4 for its use of the Common Core state standards for mathematics and English language arts.


Although the implementation of the Common Core standards was controversial initially, local educators said there are advantages to using them and teachers have warmed up to them over time.
“It seems to me over the last few years the opposition from families has gone down,” said Jennifer Lockwood, director of Willits Charter School who added people were in an uproar at first over the fact students were not being taught skills in the same manner they learned, especially in mathematics.

“I like how the standards tie together to create a clear plan across grade levels,” she said. “It’s the same standard, but it expands over time. I think there was a lot of thought behind the creation of the common core standards to come up with a cohesive plan, before that was not the case. In math, for example, students have to know how to use skills and apply them to real life situations. I think California was pretty progressive when it came to implementing and training of Common Core.”
Willits Unified School District Superintendent Mark Westerburg said the issue is not with the standards, the real issue lies with state assessments.

“The problem is measuring the standards’ success,” he said. “We are implementing them and using them at every grade level but they aren’t very consistent. The state has created a test that is not widely acceptable so a lot of districts have gone to using third party assessments.”
Westerburg said California is one of the few states that does not require a national standardized test to measure student success compared to national standards.
According to Janet Weeks, communications director for the state board of education, the state has been working on a plan for how state funding will be implemented since 2013.

Weeks said the federal government provides funding for low income students, English language learners and foster youth, approximately $1.8 billion a year or about 2 percent of California’s overall education budget and added the nonprofit’s report did not look at the entire educational funding picture. She said instead of looking at all the federal requirements, they came up with their own rubric based on what the group felt the state should be doing.
“Our response is that it’s kind of unfair to rate us without looking at everything the state is doing,” she said. “We are really proud of what we are doing in California. We have increased the amount of money school districts have been getting and we have given local school boards more power on how they spend those funds based on demographics and other factors.”

Children Now, a policy and advocacy group based out of Oakland analyzed the state’s ESSA plan and stated the final opportunity for public comment will be available during the Sept. 13-14 State Board of Education meeting.