Sample Message (please do not cut and paste):
Hello! I am writing to urge the board to insist upon the highest possible standards in mandating accountability for our schools, as they strive to provide a high-quality education to students with disabilities, English-language learners, students from poor or broken families, and others who struggle to learn. Please do not relegate California to a lowest-common-denominator implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act! The fact that Republicans in Congress have eliminated rules that make states accountable under ESSA does not mean that Californians shouldn’t expect the best education possible for our kids.
Every child must count in every classroom in our state – and for that reason, it’s crucial to get an accurate and effective count of the students with disabilities and other learning issues, for purposes of providing adequate special-needs funding as well as assessing the performances of students, teachers and schools. Meanwhile, underperforming schools must be identified and assisted quickly under the Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) program, so that struggling students don’t waste too many years of schooling without getting the help they need. And parents must have access to clear and useful information about the quality of their children’s schools, so they can make informed decisions about the education they’re receiving.
Education is a civil right for all American children. California’s Board of Education must not widen the education gap for struggling students by failing to make schools effective for and accountable to all --especially those who are most marginalized.
The California Department of Education is soliciting public comments, via the email address above, regarding its proposed implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That bipartisan law, signed by President Obama in 2015, replaced the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. ESSA was written with an eye toward providing states with flexibility in implementing its various mandates -- with Federal guardrails to ensure accountability. Many of its provisions, including those concerning school accountability, focus on historically underserved students such as those from low-income families and those with disabilities. The law itself states: “The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”
Earlier this year, however -- with backing from President Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos – Republicans used the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rules underpinning ESSA. Among the undone were regulations that defined the methods states must use in determining which schools are serving students well, and which are struggling. Without these rules, states will have more freedom to leave behind those children who don't learn as easily – including students with Down Syndrome and other physical and mental disabilities, students learning English as a second language, foster children, students of color, students from poor or broken families, and others who are falling through the cracks.
California’s state Board of Education has publicly stated that it intends only to “meet the minimum federal requirements.” The draft statement does not account for our most vulnerable students, and exemplifies the Trump/DeVos agenda of ‘flexibility without accountability.”
Accountability: #Every Child Counts
A key element in providing accountability for ESSA is choosing what is known as an “n” size -- the minimum number of students from a particular group (children with disabilities, English-language learners, etc.) who must be present within a school before that school is required to account for those children in assessing the effectiveness of the education it provides to them. For example, if the “n” size is 30 – a commonly used number nationwide – then a school with fewer than 30 English As A Second Language (ESL) students does not need to be held accountable for their academic performance.
Unfortunately, the July 2016 Policy Analysis for California Education calculated that with an “n” size of 30, nearly 50% of the state’s schools would not be held accountable for assessments. Educators agree that an “n” size of 10 is far more appropriate, and studies show such a standard will dramatically improve accountability for students.
Graduation Rate Data: 3 Years is Too Long to Wait
According to California’s draft plan for implementing ESSA, California will use three years of graduation-rate data to determine which public high schools are failing to graduate at least a third of their students, leading them to be eligible for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) planning. The law permits such identifications to happen more quickly than three years. As an example of the risk posed by such a long process, a current 9th grader could complete nearly her entire high school education in an underperforming school before it receives critically needed CSI assistance.
Families Should Find It Easy to Track Their School’s Performance
According to the draft plan, California will use a grid with color-coded levels that show each school’s ratings on the indicators that will be used to hold schools accountable and differentiate between them. However, the plan does not make clear how it will factor in the performances of students in different “subgroups” (disabled children, ESL students, etc.). The accountability system must clearly define how students from these subgroups fit into these grid ratings, so that families can understand how their schools are serving their subgroup populations.
Make Participation Rates Matter
ESSA requires that a state’s accountability system measure the academic achievement of 95 percent of students – including their performance on annual assessment tests. However, there is currently no clear consequence for schools that do not meet that participation rate, leaving open the possibility that schools could decide not to measure the performance of students in underperforming subgroups, in order to rig the system and achieve a higher rating for the school as a whole. Schools should not be given an overall rating of “satisfactory” or better if they fail (or refuse) to meet the 95 percent participation rate.