Fight brewing over new schools accountability system

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A tug of war over what and how many measures a new accountability system should use to judge schools is brewing between legislators and state policy officials.

California’s policymaking body for public schools, the State Board of Education is crafting a system that would include test scores, graduation rates and English learner proficiency.

But San Diego-area Assemblywoman Shirley Weber believes the board is moving too slowly and has authored a bill to compel the board to include measures like school climate, absenteeism, and college readiness.

“We want to avoid having something come out that we think has to be changed immediately or that does not address some of the key factors that we want,” she said.

While Webber sees her effort as proactive, the powerful California Teachers Association says she’s being meddlesome.

“It’s important that the legislature have their say but they’re only a piece of the education community,” said Terri Jackson, a CTA board member.

Jackson and many other education advocates believe the previous accountability system, the Academic Performance Index, was woefully inadequate in measuring school strengths and weaknesses because it’s only measure was scores from yearly English and math tests.

In 2013 the state approved a law to stop using scores from the STAR standardized tests.

Those scores were the only measure in the API, so the State Board of Education voted to stop adding scores to the API as the state transitioned to new learning standards, standardized tests, and a new accountability system.

Every state must also make sure it's following new federal government school improvement guidelines. Those guidelines give states much more say in how school's are held accountable for improvement. 

Local control is a strong theme in the debate over creating a statewide accountability system. Assemblywoman Webber and some of the groups supporting her bill believe school districts won’t focus on some of the measures if the state doesn’t require it.

The CTA said it doesn’t have a specific number of measures in mind, but rather wants some that measure academics and others that measure non academic factors. Any others should be decided on by a school district and its teachers union.

“Every local district and education, teachers union, they know their community, they know their students and the closer you can bring that home to the local level, the better,” Jackson said.

Observers believe the debate is a healthy conversation about the future of schools in California.

“It’s a really exciting time for thinking about how we can really widen our view of how we think about school and student performance in a way that really benefits kids,” said Stanford education researcher Heather Hough.

Weber’s bill moves into the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week. In the coming months the State Board of Education will continue to debate adoption of a new accountability system.

“If the state board didn’t include these measures and the bill becomes state law on January first, the board would have to go back and rewrite their accountability system,” said Weber spokesman Joe Kocurek.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Shirley Weber's last name. KPCC regrets the error.