State Board focuses on System of Support’s local impacts, ESSA compliance issues

The Nov. 6 State Board of Education meeting featured presentations from two county offices of education involved in the State System of Support that explored how the connection between the work of lead agencies, COEs and local educational agencies can lead to positive outcomes for students.

First, the State Board heard from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office on the Valley to Coast initiative, currently focusing on improving outcomes for students with disabilities. The county office is a geographic lead agency, leading the work with five other county offices on the initiative: Fresno Superintendent of Schools, Los Angeles COE, San Luis Obispo COE, Santa Barbara County Education Office and Ventura County COE.

While impressed with the collaborative nature of the work being done across county offices, several State Board members rehashed longstanding concerns that districts across the state are looking for more concrete examples of best practices directly addressing the question of “how do we help a teacher and a classroom improve?” Board member Sue Burr reminded her colleagues that the LEA should always be at the center of System of Support discussions. “It’s just hard to make this real for people,” she said. “Going forward, it would be appropriate to consider it from the LEA lens.”

Similarly, board member Patricia Rucker asked about tangible evidence of impacts on students, teachers and communities.

A more direct example was provided in the second presentation, from El Dorado County Office of Education Superintendent Ed Manansala and Mother Lode Union School District Superintendent Marcy Guthrie. Manansala addressed the many plates that districts must juggle in the Local Control Funding Formula era, acknowledging that even the most experienced leaders are struggling with all these pieces.

By focusing on a shift in COE duties and roles to one of “owning the outcomes with our districts,” Manansala said the county office has worked with El Dorado districts such as Mother Lode to deliver progress. Identified for differentiated assistance for academic outcomes, suspension rates and chronic absenteeism across several student groups, Guthrie said results have emerged through coordination with the county office and neighboring districts on issues such as Local Control and Accountability Plan training, principal development and labor management improvements.

“I’ve been living this, and I think there is promise in this work,” Guthrie said, pointing to the relatively small district’s inclusion in the Learning Policy Institute’s California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds report.

ESSA compliance issues continue to arise

As the California Department of Education volleys with the U.S. Department of Education and makes continued adjustments to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, two new issues arose at Wednesday’s meeting. The first pertained to the State Board redefining the state’s definitions of both “ineffective” teacher and “out of field” teacher, phrases not popular with the board or CDE staff but mandated by federal law. The U.S. Department of Education collects state data on the number of teachers in those categories to track the proportionality of the qualifications of teachers in schools and districts.

The agenda item led to a greater discussion — which will continue down the road — about how California uses this type of data to monitor whether fully credentialed teachers are in the schools and classrooms that likely need them the most. “As a state, we really need to take on that responsibility as well,” board member Ting L. Sun said.

At the same time, board member Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon expressed that as the state aims to employ more teachers of color to better reflect and serve its student population, many of them will likely end up in hard-to-staff roles without necessarily being fully credentialed. Therefore, she said it will be critical for the state to support these teachers who may likely fall into the category of “ineffective” through no fault of their own.

The second change is a product of the State Board’s July adoption of a five-year, or extended, graduation rate. To comply with ESSA, which requires states to set a more rigorous long-term goal for an extended-year rate, the State Board revised the long-term goal for the extended graduation rate to 90.5 percent, as compared to 90 percent goal for the four-year rate.

The wide-stretching impacts of wildfire danger

In his report, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond credited the resiliency of educators, students and communities during the state’s latest round of devastating wildfires and related Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

Roughly 1,400 schools serving more than 490,000 students lost power for one or more days during outages between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1, according to the CDE. Students lost an exorbitant 975,000 instructional days during that time frame. “There are counties where almost every school needed to be closed because of fire,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said the CDE will address the lost instructional days, as well as district concerns such as wasted and spoiled food, issues with well-based water supplies and the high cost of generators or alternative energy sources. “I do not accept that the new normal is 10 years of power shut-offs that jeopardize the education and safety of our students and communities,” he said at a recent press conference.

In other State Board meeting news:

  • The State Board approved the CDE’s recommended threshold scores for the California Science Test (CAST), beginning with the assessment for the 2018–19 school year, as shown in the table above. The assessment is taken by students in grades five and eight, and once in high school. About 1.5 million students participated in 2018–19.
  • The State Board approved the methodology and cut scores for the English Learner Progress Indicator status by splitting levels 2 and 3 of the English Learner Proficiency Assessments for California, creating six ELPI levels based on the ELPAC. The move also means the “very low” status on the California School Dashboard will be used to determine LEA and school eligibility for support.
  • The State Board approved the recommendation of three finalists for consideration by the Governor’s Office to be the 2020–21 student board member. They are Michelle Alas of Northgate High School in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District; Arlene Campa of Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in the Los Angeles County Office of Education; and Zaid Fattah of Monte Vista High School in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
  • Additionally, the State Board heard six proposals from the 2019 Student Advisory Board on Education, part of the California Association of Student Councils. Notable ideas included asking the CDE to create a blueprint and resources for LEAs to use in implementing restorative justice programs; share more cultural competency resources for teachers and staff on the department website; and provide free or low-cost training to student members on district and county boards across the state.