State Board: Leaders address immensely challenging times; criteria approved for Seal of Civic Engagement

State education leaders opened Thursday, Sept. 10’s State Board of Education meeting by pledging their support for K–12 schools and communities across the state and recognizing the heroic work of local educational agencies in a monumentally challenging school year.

While the scramble continues to close the digital divide, improve distance learning and, in some areas, keep students and staff healthy on campus, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said the annual arrival of widespread destructive wildfires and smoky skies only adds to the collective challenges facing LEAs. “To see, as our schools finally are in a place where they can open — some in-person, most in distance learning — and to add to it fires and issues with air quality on top of that … Our schools are dealing with the most difficult circumstances,” Thurmond said.

To ensure effected LEAs receive uninterrupted funding, the California Department of Education will expedite J-13A waiver requests and is working to send protective face coverings to communities inundated with the unhealthiest of air.

State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond commended the work of LEAs in continuously improving the quality of instruction and services provided to students since the spring. Districts are showing immense creativity in connecting with families, county offices of education are collaborating like never before and distance learning attendance is much improved in many communities, she said.

The mounting challenges to the basic health and safety of many of the state’s children and their families, however, must remain the top priority, she said.

“Our Governor and our Legislature have stepped up over and over again to try to build back a safety net to the extent that is possible, but we really need to continue to work for the kind of recovery that will allow us to see all of our children adequately supported both inside and outside of school,” Darling-Hammond said. “The schools have been doing heroic work to step up into those gaps and be sure the kids are getting as much of what they need as the education system can provide.”

Board approves criteria for State Seal of Civic Engagement

With the intent of encouraging more students to become participants in democracy in a rapidly evolving nation and world, the State Board approved criteria for students to earn a new Seal of Civic Engagement. The criteria (listed here) includes extensive guidance to support LEAs as they implement the seal in their communities. Students may earn the seal on a transcript, diploma or Certificate of Completion.

Since Assembly Bill 24 was signed into law in October 2017, the CDE has worked with teachers, a variety of stakeholder groups and the public to draft criteria and guidance for the seal.

Legislative Advocate Carlos Machado expressed CSBA’s support during public comment. “We appreciate the work of the board and the department on implementing the statute and support creating an opportunity for students to be recognized for their civic engagement activities and their early efforts to shape policy that affects their education, community and beyond,” he said.

Board members similarly lauded the new seal, though Cynthia Glover Woods noted that LEAs will need support to provide students with the access needed to meet the criteria. “To have the seal and such wonderful criteria without roads for students to access them through their schools and districts won’t be as helpful,” Glover Woods said.

The board also discussed how the new seal could integrate with the state’s College/Career Indicator, for which the board adopted several new measures at the same meeting.

Growth model further delayed by data analysis

In a lengthy accountability system update, a CDE and Educational Testing Services presentation concluded that more time is needed to study the proposed data measure for the state’s years-in-the-making growth model. The empirical best linear predictor of student achievement growth is meant to reduce the inaccuracy and potentially reduce fluctuations seen in more commonly used measures. However, staff and board members flagged concerns over the effects the predictor may have depending on school or LEA size, particularly for larger ones.

Growth scores will be released for informational purposes only in April 2021, said Jenny Singh, manager of the Analysis, Measurement, and Accountability Division at the CDE. “That will give districts time to look at the growth scores and we can have conversations with them about how we could report it so that it’s easy for people to understand.”

After board members continued conversations from past meetings about the goal of the growth model compared to both in-house and outside expectations, Singh clarified the point is publicly reporting growth at the student-group level, not at the individual student level. “I was hoping this growth model might help provide actionable data on a student level for LEAs in classrooms,” board member Ting L. Sun said in response.

Singh said there is still a decision to be made about whether individual data will be made available to LEAs for their internal use. Board member Matt Navo made it clear he would support the idea. “My food for thought is, if we want districts to be able to improve and support their students, I don’t necessarily believe it’s in their best interest or student best interest to hold back data that would be helpful,” he said.

In other State Board meeting news:

  • In closed session, the board approved the Governor’s appointment of Brooks Allen as education policy advisor to the Governor and executive director of the State Board. Allen has been assistant superintendent, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence liaison and legal counsel at the Marin County Office of Education since 2017. He follows Karen Stapf Walters as executive director, a position Walters served in for seven years.
  • New student board member Zaid Fattah was sworn in. Fattah is a senior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, and also serves as the California Association of Student Council’s governmental affairs and policy director in Region 4.
  • In their update, assessment division staff announced that the statewide testing window for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress will begin Jan. 12, 2021, and end July 15, 2021. Staff also announced that the second annual California Assessment Conference will be held on Oct. 6 and 7, through a virtual conference platform.
  • The board unanimously approved a long list of LEA plans as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act through the completion of the Local Control and Accountability Plan Federal Addendum. LEAs that receive ESSA funds are required to complete the federal addendum, in addition to state LCAP requirements.
  • On the consent agenda, the board ratified the state’s waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education that would allow a charter school to retroactively spend the CDE’s Public Charter School Grant Program funds to support distance learning and other COVID-19 expenses. The program has an unobligated balance of $5.5 million from the 2016–19 grant award, and these unexpended funds would usually go back to the federal government. The CDE waiver request proposes funding up to 100 charter schools at $250 per student for a maximum award of $75,000 per school.
  • The board also ratified the submission of the state’s waiver for an extension of IDEA Part B Funds that allows SELPA grantees to have the IDEA Part B grant award funds available through Sept. 30, 2021. Without the waiver, SELPA grantees would have until Sept. 30, 2020, to spend their fiscal year awards.