School interrupted: Designing a partial credit policy that works

By Carol Brydolf, CSBA writer

Representatives from the Legislature, the California School Boards Association, the California Department of Education, a host of public and private children’s interest groups, county offices of education and school districts gathered at CSBA’s offices in West Sacramento this week to tackle a tough problem: How to standardize the rules for awarding partial credit to students forced by difficult life circumstances to change schools frequently.

The aim of the meeting was to increase support and improve educational outcomes for foster youth, homeless students, military kids and other students whose educations are interrupted by transfers from school to school partway through the academic year.

At present, there is no standardized policy for calculating such partial credit, and practices vary widely across school districts—causing problems for governing boards and threatening the sometimes fragile academic success and well-being of some of California’s most vulnerable students, who are already at high risk for dropping out.

Participants at the May 6 meeting hope to come up with a policy that will work for everyone. The group is scheduled to meet again this summer, with the aim of submitting final recommendations in September to the Child Welfare Council—a state advisory body that tracks how well state agencies are serving the children in their care.

Negotiating all those different partial-credit rules and policies is difficult for students and their families and creates “an operational nightmare” for LEAs, said Teri Burns, CSBA’s senior director for policy and programs and a school board member in the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento County.

Alameda County Office of Education board member Ken Berrick, immediate past president of the California County Boards of Education association and a member of CSBA’s Board of Directors, was instrumental in organizing the meeting. Berrick works directly on the issue of support for vulnerable children and families as president and CEO of the Seneca Family of Agencies.

“We’re after a very simple goal. All we want is a standardized methodology,” Berrick said. “Kids are telling us: ‘Just give us credit for the work we’ve done.’ “

Sylvia Pizzini, Assistant Secretary with the California Health Human Services Agency, also played a major role in convening this gathering of experts and advocates. She said she was impressed by the “expertise and passion” displayed at the meeting.

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