California DOE Pushes Forward on ESSA-Based Improvement System

Testing is out; "whole child outcomes" are in. California is working through the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which places responsibility for figuring out how to evaluate schools and districts on the states themselves. Recently, a Department of Education task force handed in its recommendations for building an accountability and continuous improvement system that emphasizes three themes: performance, equity and, most prominently, improvement.

The overall result, as the Los Angeles Times reported in its coverage, is a model that moves beyond testing scores and incorporates such factors as "suspension rates, graduation rates, attendance and the rate at which students who are still learning English are becoming proficient."

At the heart of the new system are two sets of outcomes:

  • Whole child outcomes with indicators that demonstrate the extent to which children are "healthy, safe, engaged, supported, challenged and valued"; and
  • School and district academic outcomes with indicators that show the extent "to which students achieve meaningful learning outcomes, including the acquisition of the knowledge, language and lifelong learning skills needed to succeed in today's world."

The emphasis on improvement is an important one to the task force. As the report stated, "The value of improvement lies in both the importance of striving to increase student and system outcomes, and the opportunity that improvement provides for shared learning across the system."

"User-friendly" dashboards would allow people to monitor progress and pinpoint areas for improvement at each level of reporting. State-mandated indicators, for example, would be used for required state and federal purposes, including proficiency on annual high-stakes assessments, high school graduation rates and progress in achieving English language proficiency. But they'd also include some indicator of school quality or student success such as suspension or expulsion rates, school climate survey scores, chronic absenteeism or college and career readiness indicators.

Some of those measures would also show up in state-reported indicators, which would complement the required measures in order to gain a "holistic picture of performance, equity and improvement." In that category, college and career indicators and school climate survey scores would be included, alongside an equity measure, such as school facilities quality or access to curriculum materials.

Local education agencies — districts and school systems — would also have the chance to throw in their own indicators, appropriate to their needs, such as parent engagement or kindergarten readiness assessments.

The report acknowledged that building the new system will take time because, for example, data isn't being collected to support the indicators laid out by the task force. "Now is the time, however, to take meaningful steps in the direction of what we know will work," the report stated, "and away from what has failed us, and our children, in the past."

In the next meeting, which takes place in July, the state school board will face the job of approving the final design and descriptors for the local education agency performance indicators. The early draft of the ESSA state plan is expected to be submitted to the United States Department of Education by January 2017, which has up to 120 days to review the proposal. The new accountability system is scheduled to be in place by August 2017.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.