State Board sets the stage for future action on TK, assessments and more

Informational items focused on early learning, assessments and school climate were the crux of the State Board of Education’s Jan. 19–20 meeting agenda.

In addition, what is usually a routine action of assigning a number to an SBE-approved charter school petition might have been complicated by a lawsuit being brought against the State Board by the Napa Valley Unified School District for violating the terms of the Charter Schools Act updated by Assembly Bill 1505. The reforms in the bill allow the State Board to overturn local denials only if it finds the local districts abused their discretion in rejecting a charter. CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance has also filed a lawsuit against the State Board challenging its decision to reverse the decisions of the Napa Valley USD governing board and the Napa County Board of Education to deny the charter. The lawsuit was not mentioned by the SBE, however, and a number was assigned.

Transitional kindergarten

California Department of Education (CDE) staff provided a lengthy overview of the development and benefits of transitional kindergarten (TK), the expansion of universal TK (UTK), the role of TK within the state’s universal prekindergarten (UPK) goals and the importance of pre-K through third-grade alignment.

The state’s vision for UPK is a mixed-delivery system that aims to improve access and equity in early childhood education; support learning and development by enhancing educator competencies; incentivize early childhood career pathways; and streamline governance and administration to improve equity.

Universal access to TK is key to delivering on the promise to provide all children with a strong and early start to education through high-quality, developmentally informed, inclusive and rigorous pre-K programs, according to CDE staff. California is estimated to realize UPK by 2025–26.

As part of TK implementation, local educational agencies must consider how to integrate TK programs into the existing UPK program infrastructure and how to apply developmentally appropriate best practices for early childhood education in TK classrooms. Challenges in the field have arisen around access, class size and ratios, the teacher shortage, workforce qualifications, professional learning, instructional time and access to full-day programs that meet parent needs, curriculum and assessment quality, meeting the needs of young children with disabilities, serving multilingual learners and lack of adequate facilities — but so have examples of best practices. In-depth examples are available here.

Efforts are underway to address some of these issues. For instance, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing during its October 2022 meeting adopted a new credential for PK-3 teachers specifically designed to provide accelerated pathways for future candidates. And although proposed to be delayed by one year in Gov. Newsom’s proposed 2023–24 budget, the current year budget allocated $550 million in one-time General Fund monies to help schools construct TK, full-day kindergarten or preschool classrooms.

Once fully implemented, this will be the largest pre-K program for 4-year-olds in the country and have positive long-term impacts on children and school systems, said board member Kim Pattillo Brownson. “The early learning investment is an important strategy for making sure that all of that good work that’s done in the later years does not have to be catch-up — but can just be progress,” she said.

School climate indicator and assessment status

An update was provided on the implementation status and use of school climate surveys to improve outcomes, as required in the local indicator self-reflection tool for Priority Six of the Local Control Funding Formula: School Climate. LEAs use the self-reflection tools included within the California School Dashboard to report their progress on the local performance indicator.

“School needs to be a positive place for all to be,” said Board Vice President Cynthia Glover Woods. “Our school climate data really serves as a foundation for all of the other data, because how students experience school very often shows up in many other aspects that we look at.” She and other board members cited the need for disaggregated student group data.

“When I think about our African American students, our LGBTQ+ student community, newcomers and those who are English learners — especially English learners who are at the earlier levels of English language proficiency — their experiences in school can look very different from the experiences of others,” Glover Woods continued. “Having this data disaggregated … can help point to ways we can partner, [and] to actions that can be implemented to make the school experience a more positive one for our students.”

There was also significant discussion related to developments and updates to the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), also known as Smarter Balanced assessments, and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC). Among the updates:

  • The Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments for English language arts and mathematics were determined in November 2022 by a federal peer review process to fully “meet requirements” based on the full-form blueprints. Continued use of the adjusted blueprints will require an additional review.
  • Optional Smarter Balanced Interim Assessments, which are available to LEAs to provide timely feedback teachers can use to gauge student progress, were discussed. Individual score reports and other data can also be shared with students and their families.

Board member Francisco Escobedo cited the importance of training incoming teachers on how to utilize these assessments. “As we embark on this journey, I hope that we’re reaching out to teacher preparation programs to ensure our teachers are well-prepared from the beginning in understanding how to plan and instruct our students in these types of higher-level thinking skills,” Escobedo said.

It’s a necessary step that’s proving easier said than done, explained Tony Alpert, executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. “It gets complex; incorporating the tools and the resources and the training into teacher prep programs has been a challenge,” he said. “I think having a state-level goal to be able to incorporate some of these resources into higher ed curricula might be a helpful, positive force. I think that would help move things forward.”

State Board moves ahead with charter school authorization despite lawsuits

On the final day of its meeting, the board quickly approved a charter school number assigned to newly approved Mayacamas Charter Middle School, located in Napa. Looming over the normally routine action is a lawsuit against the State Board by the Napa Valley Unified School District, whose board had unanimously denied the charter. The district determined that the charter school’s operation would further exacerbate projected declines in student enrollment, which in turn would force cuts to district programming and more. Upon appeal, the charter received a 5-2 denial vote from the Napa County Office of Education board.

During its September 2022 meeting, the SBE reversed those decisions upon appeal. Napa Valley USD argues that the State Board effectively ignored Assembly Bill 1505 — a bill enacted in 2019 that allows the State Board to only overturn local denials if it finds the local districts abused their discretion in rejecting a charter — when making its decision. State Board member Sharon Olken said during the September meeting that “while it is not our job to decide who is right, this difference points to a significant bias … In my opinion, the district process as a whole was an abuse of discretion.” The SBE also determined Napa COE hadn’t sufficiently demonstrated that the Mayacamas school would significantly undermine district programs by diverting attendance-based funding.

On Jan. 10, CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance (ELA) — which initiates and supports litigation in cases of statewide significance to schools statewide — also sued the State Board, arguing that the SBE exceeded its authority and improperly substituted its judgment for the discretionary judgment of the governing boards of Napa Valley USD and Napa COE. The ELA’s suit is seeking to set aside the State Board’s Mayacamas charter approval, as well as “declaratory relief confirming the SBE’s limited role when considering charter petition appeals to stop the SBE from continuing to ignore the recent changes to the Charter School Act that were specifically designed to promote local control.” Learn more here.

In other State Board meeting news:

  • The board approved Career Technical Education Incentive Grant allocations for fiscal year 2022–23, as well as an allocation formula, specific funding amounts and number of grant awards, purposes for grant fund use and allowable and non-allowable expenditures.
  • The board approved the executive summary of the federal Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Performance Report (APR) for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act covering program year 2021–22. The APR outlines the collective progress of LEAs in the state toward meeting yearly targets identified in the State Performance Plan.
  • The CDE announced the two delegates and first and second alternates selected to represent California at the 61st annual United States Senate Youth Program, held virtually on March 4–11. Learn more about these student leaders.
  • The board approved the 2022–23 LEA Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) plans. The State Board approves these final plans to meet ESSA standards, which “requires LEAs, in partnership with stakeholders, to develop and implement a CSI plan to improve student outcomes for each school identified for CSI.”

The next State Board meeting is scheduled for March 8–9, 2023. View the full meeting calendar.