Saturday, July 13, 2013



By Tom Chorneau, SI&A Cabinet Report |

Thursday, July 11, 2013  ::  As California transitions from its existing student testing system to one based on new national common standards, school administrators face the unhappy prospect next year of subjecting a large number of students to both assessment programs next year.

But state officials said Wednesday that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has offered states participating in one of two consortia developing the new assessments a waiver allowing them relief from double testing.

There are no guidelines yet governing how the waiver would work and expectations are that Duncan would be considering them state by state. But the good news, said Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education overseeing student achievement issues, is that federal officials recognize the problem.

At a hearing before the California State Board of Education, Sigman noted that California would be applying for the waiver and expected to have additional information about the proposal for the board to consider in September.

Pending legislation aimed at positioning California for transitioning to the new assessment system by the 2014-15 school year calls for the suspension of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program – or STAR – as of this month.

The bill, AB 484 Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, includes an exception for those tests still required for federal accountability purposes or used for the Early Assessment Program.

Meanwhile, California has committed to participating in the pilot and field testing of the new, computer-based assessments being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. That includes testing both in 2012-13 and in 2013-14.

While only a sample of California students would be needed to participate next year in the field testing of the new system, Sigman estimated that there could actually be close to 700,000 students – a number that could pose serious complications for schools, she said.

Duncan’s offer would appear to be consistent with the Obama administration’s ongoing effort to give states relief from the most rigid performance requirements of NCLB.

Since the fall of 2011, Duncan has approved waivers for 39 states from NCLB requirements that include all students attaining proficiency in reading and math by 2013-14.

In exchange for the waivers, states have agreed to develop and implement new benchmarks for college and career readiness and to adopt teacher-evaluation systems linked to student test scores.

Duncan made the offer for the waiver from double testing last month when he also announced new flexibility for states already given NCLB waivers to meet the teacher evaluation requirement.

Under that plan, Duncan would give states until 2016-17 to begin using student test scores as a factor in making personnel decisions – a delay of one year.

California has not received an NCLB waiver but a group of districts – the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE – has an application pending on Duncan’s desk.


By Tom Chorneau, SI&A Cabinet Report |

Thursday, July 11, 2013 ::  School districts along with state agencies face a challenging timeline for planning and implementing new requirements of the Local Control Funding Formula, according to a schedule presented to the California State Board of Education Wednesday.

As a condition for receiving a share of slightly more than $2 billion set aside in the 2013-14 state budget under the LCFF program, districts will be required to annually adopt an accountability plan developed in consultation with parent advisory groups that will detail how the money will be used to benefit targeted students.

But a statewide template also needs to be developed by the state board no later than March 31, 2014 – a deadline that incorporates a number of interim steps tied to the development and promulgation of new spending regulations and performance benchmarks.

Getting all of that done – along with a new tool for evaluating local educational agency compliance with new accountability rules by October, 2015 – has some board members concerned, even though new state law contemplates schools using much of the coming nine or 10 months as time to prepare.

“I’m comfortable with districts working through this year as the development year – they have a great deal of experience with planning and then implementing requirements of a new program by a date certain,” said Pat Rucker, a member of the state board since Gov. Jerry Brown took office in January, 2011.

“What will be different this time is that none of the requirements will be waiveable,” she noted. “And they are relying on a state agency to give them direction that has to assume that the work they are doing right now will be aligned. That’s where the actual pressure is.”

The new funding formula was the centerpiece of Brown’s education agenda this year – which drastically restructured California’s complex maze of programs for funding K-12 schools into a far more simplified system of block grants aimed at supporting basic educational services as well as providing additional money for disadvantaged students.

Concerned that the governor’s original plan did not include enough assurances that grants for low-income, English learners and foster youth would actually be spent as intended, legislative leaders added a number of requirements that LEAs must meet or face sanctions.

In order to make the funding available beginning this fall and put into motion program mandates, a number of state and local agencies will be pressed to meet a challenging timeline.

First, state schools chief Tom Torlakson, along with the governor’s Department of Finance and State Controller John Chiang, will need to update spending standards and policies that schools use in the adoption of their local budgets.

That needs to happen on or before Jan. 1, 2014.

The Local Control Funding Formula also came with requirements that districts begin tracking small subgroups of students for the purposes of reporting through the Academic Performance Index – including for the first time foster care students.

An advisory body to the CDE and the state board, the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee is required to make recommended changes to the API by Jan. 30, 2014.

At the same time, on or before Jan. 31, 2014, the state board will need to adopt new regulations governing how LEAs can spend the new formula grant money to serve the high needs students.

To meet the mandate for having accountability plans that cover three years – the state board is also required to have in place by March 31, 2014, plan templates for use by districts, county offices and charter schools.

Finally, the state board faces a deadline of Oct. 31, 2015 for adopting an evaluation rubric that provides a “holistic multidimensional assessment” of how an LEA has done to meet the new accountability mandates. The rubric would also be used to help the state and county offices with intervention if needed for those districts that are not meeting their goals.

The hearing Wednesday about the new funding perimeters drew a significant number of school officials and representatives. Most praised passage of the new system while also cautioning the board to move slowly, perform ongoing outreach to districts and remain flexible.

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