Gov. Jerry Brown, Assessment Control Freak

I don’t think anyone has accused California Governor Jerry Brown of being an advocate for local control, but here’s definitive proof that isn’t the case. He vetoed a bill, AB 1951, last week that would allow local school districts to substitute Smarter Balanced with the SAT or ACT for 11th graders.

Since the vast majority of students who plan to go to college take either one of those college-entrance exams (or both), it is a move that makes sense.

For the record, I believe there should be alternatives to those assessments (I’ve profiled a couple here), and we have also seen colleges drop the assessment requirement altogether

Brown’s answer to this is to require the University of California and California State University systems to accept Smarter Balanced as their college entrance exam.

In his veto message Brown wrote:

This bill requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to approve one or more nationally recognized high school assessments that a local school may administer in lieu of the state-administered high school summative assessment, commencing with the 2019-20 school year.

Since 2010, California has eliminated standardized testing in grades 9 and 10 and the high school exit exam. While I applaud the author’s efforts to improve student access to college and reduce “testing fatigue” in grade 11, I am not convinced that replacing the state’s high school assessment with the Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Test achieves that goal.

Our K-12 system and our public universities are now discussing the possible future use of California’s grade 11 state assessment for college admission purposes. This is a better approach to improving access to college for under-represented students and reducing “testing fatigue.”

This “better idea” of Governor Brown’s is not feasible as the author of the bill, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), EdSource reports:

Neither system currently does that, but at the request of Kirst, who is president of the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a UC administrator wrote in July that the UC would consider whether that would be feasible.

But O’Donnell said that even if CSU and UC were interested, it would take years for them to factor Smarter Balanced scores into their admissions criteria. His bill would have given districts the option of switching to the SAT or ACT in 2019-20.

He said that Brown’s veto message didn’t address his main reason for proposing his bill, which is to alert students of deficits in their skills before their junior year, in addition to encouraging more students to pursue college. Smarter Balanced tests students in 3rd to 8th grades and then 11th grade. It’s not given in 9th and 10th grades, creating a two-year gap. O’Donnell, a middle and high school teacher before his election to the Assembly, said that districts like Long Beach have used the Pre-SAT, starting in 8th grade, to fill in the vacuum of information by identifying what needs to be addressed before students take the SAT.

O’Donnell, who is the Assembly Education Committee Chair, told EdSource he plans to move the bill again next year when there is a new governor.

238 Education Data Bills Hit State Capitols in 2018 So Far

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Data Quality Campaign (not our ally in the fight against data mining) provided a snapshot of the number of education data bills hitting state capitol buildings near you.

They report there are 238 bills related to education data this year so far, and less than a third (70) have anything to do with protecting student data privacy.

They highlight bills before state legislators this year where they are trying to “make data work for students.”

Addressing inequities and underserved students’ needs

Echoing national conversations about disciplinary disparities and the unique needs of traditionally underserved students, numerous state bills this year target the reporting of data to address education inequities. For example:

  • Tennessee is considering a bill (HB 2651) to establish a commission on the school-to-prison pipeline. The commission would submit a report to the legislature including school discipline data and policy recommendations to implement restorative justice practices.
  • Indiana has a new law (HB 1314) requiring a report on how the state’s homeless students and students in foster care fare in school and how these students could be better supported.

Informing policy decisions and meeting state goals

Nearly 100 bills considered so far in 2018 have focused on how state policymakers themselves can use aggregate data to make policy decisions or meet their state’s education goals. For example:

  • California has introduced a bill (SB 1224) to create a state longitudinal data system (SLDS) with student data from kindergarten enrollment to workforce entry—a system that could help inform education policies across the state.
  • Mississippi considered a bill (HB 405) to use the state’s education data system to better understand the state’s workforce needs.

Empowering the public with more information

Over 60 bills this year would require states to publicly report more, or more useful and accessible, information about their schools. For example:

  • New Jersey is considering a bill (A 2192) to include data on chronic absence and disciplinary suspensions on school report cards.
  • Arizona is considering a bill (SB 1411) to create a new dashboard as part of the state’s school achievement profiles with new data on academic progress and school quality.

Empowering educators and families with student data

In years past, legislators have not frequently used legislation to give educators and parents secure access to their own student’s data. This year is seeing some more legislative activity on this important priority. For example:

  • Louisiana is considering a bill (SB 107) to ensure that teachers receive student-level assessment results in a format that is easy to understand and includes longitudinal student data if possible.
  • Massachusetts is considering a bill (S 40) that would create an electronic data “backpack” program for foster youth. The backpack would contain a student’s education record and would be available to the adults authorized to make decisions for that student.

The best way to “make data work for students” is to not collect it without parental knowledge and consent and to keep it at the local school level with the teachers where it could possibly do some good. The problem is, evidenced by the Louisiana bill, when data gets collected it heads to the state (and the feds and who knows what other third parties) who don’t teach the kids and have no business having that data.

Education Policies Gone Bad at Our Children’s Expense

Below is a guest post from John Walker. He is a research and design software engineer with 18 years of experience doing contract work for NASA air traffic management tools.  He is also an elected member of the Modesto City Schools Board of Education since 2015 and currently its Vice President. He is also the father of 2 high school students in public schools.

Education Policies Gone Bad at Our Children’s Expense

By John Walker

In 2012 the Governor signed AB 1246 cementing Common Core as the K-12 standards in California. In 2013 the Governor signed the bill enacting the “Local Control Funding Formula”. The State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Department of Education (CDE) have struggled for 7 plus years to convince the public there is a plan to lift student achievement and close achievement gaps. The results have been far from stellar. When one looks at SBAC assessments California has not only failed to succeed, but by any measure it has been a dismal failure.

What is the plan to rise from the ashes of categorically lowering the K-12 math and English language arts standards in the state? What is the plan to take experimental teaching philosophies which have shown little or no positive effect to become the end all be all for educating our children?

One in four California school districts will be required to get assistance due to students with disabilities not succeeding, and over 600 school districts will need assistance when all students are accounted for. The results would have been worse if the SBE did not change the rules.

The argument made is it will take time because the standards were raised. This is normally followed by a myriad of descriptions that imply that California has taken on the greatest educationally rigorous challenge ever. California junior colleges have dropped intermediate algebra requirements for most students. The California State University system is poised to begin teaching high school math and English for college credit. Meanwhile in 2013 the state passed legislation categorically moving Algebra 1 from 8th grade to the 9th grade. How do any of these facts square with raising the bar? They don’t but facts aren’t important in Sacramento.

The California accountability plan was rejected by the department of education. The response was to blame local school districts and throw the complaints downhill to the local governing school boards. Fast forward and the CDE for the 3rd time is remodeling the LCAP and LCFF to force more compliance on school districts.

They are calling it the “Test Kitchen”, but let’s be honest it’s the next step in defending failed policies by throwing the kitchen sink at local governing boards. We have endured the failed annual SBAC test. We have expended 100’s of millions of dollars building web based networks and purchasing computers to meet testing mandates. The required local funding of pension liabilities continues to rise. By 2024 districts will be contributing 28.2 cents for CalPERS and 19.5 cents on every dollar for CalSTRS. Historically California continues to underfund education. California ranks 45th in the percentage of taxable income per student, 41st in per pupil spending, & 48th in pupil staff ratios.

The problem is not local school districts being held accountable. The problem is the public and the state legislature have not held the appointed (unelected & unaccountable) SBE & CDE accountable for their failed policies. So, keep throwing the kitchen sink at us, keep blaming us for not making failed policies work, & keep letting the privately funded nonprofit think tanks make & defend failed policies.

California education policy is an unmitigated disaster, and when it’s over the blame will rest in the hands of the SBE led by Michael Kirst and the State Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson. If the legislature cannot find the courage to act, they are just as much to blame.

Facts matter and policies that hurt children and families should never be tolerated, but we live in a state where accountability is only used to push problems downhill.

Less Than Half of California 3rd Graders Being Proficient in Math is Hope?

I just read some remarkable spin today over at EdSource. I originally pointed to an article they published warning California policymakers and parents to use the Smarter Balanced scores “with caution.” As expected the scores were stagnant.

But there’s a bright spot! 3rd Graders scores are improving!

From EdSource:

Third-graders’ relatively high scores on the statewide assessments, administered in the spring of 2017 and released last week, indicated that the Common Core standards — which those children have been learning since kindergarten — may be having a positive impact on math education.

Nearly 47 percent of 3rd-graders met or exceeded the math standards, the highest number of any grade level. By comparison, only 32.14 percent of 11th-graders — who spent most of their school years studying the old standards — met or exceeded standards.

Third-graders have shown steady improvement since 2015, when the Smarter Balanced test was first introduced. In 2015, 40 percent met or exceeded standards, and last year 46 percent did.

Some are getting excited about less than one-half of California’s third graders meeting and exceeding standards. Also, apparently the definition of “relatively high” has changed. These students have been under Common Core since the beginning and still, only 47 percent meet or exceed the standards.

In 2016, 46 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards. As fourth-graders this year only 40.45 percent do. In 2015, 40 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards, but as fifth-graders this year only 33.83 percent do.

So the only thing I see here is that students’ collective scores worsen the longer they are under Common Core.

But sure, cling to that “glimmer of hope.”

California Pushes Back Against Feds With Science Test


The state of California will move forward with their new assessment aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards regardless of the U.S. Department of Education’s letter telling them they must stick with the old test. This is the “flexibility” that the Every Student Succeeds Act provides. While I think California’s move to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards and a subsequent assessment is wrong headed I am encouraged to see the state push back.

The Federal government has no business dictating to a state what assessment they use or mandating that they should use any for that matter. California appears to be doing what every state should be doing when it comes to federal overreach into education – ignore them. We’ll see if they stand firm or if they end up caving.

EdSource reports:

California education officials have decided that students will take only one statewide standardized test in science this spring, a pilot test based on new standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards.

The decision, made in recent weeks, pits state education officials against the U.S. Department of Education, which told California officials in a Sept. 30 letter that they must continue to administer the older science based on standards adopted in 1998, and publish the scores on those tests.

California has been administering the multiple choice, paper-and-pencil California Standards Tests in science to 5th8th and 10th graders until as recently as last year, as required by the No Child Left Behind law.

But the State Board of Education adopted the new science standards in 2013, and educators had planned to administer a pilot version of a new online test aligned with those standards this spring. It had requested a federal waiver from having to give the old test as well, but the U.S. Department of Education denied its request….

….The department has given the state until Dec. 1 to resubmit its waiver request if it meets conditions outlined in the letter. Barr said that California intends to submit another request for a waiver. On Saturday, she told EdSource that the resubmission of the waiver appeal “may or may not include some of the options” outlined in the Whalen letter, but did not offer details.

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said that California can submit an appeal of the department’s decision as outlined in the Sept. 30 letter. However, she said, “the department has not received an appeal and cannot speculate on what steps CDE will take to correct the issues identified in the letter.”

Read the rest.

Foster Care Children Being Left Behind


An interesting story out of California shows that while the state saw an improvement with their Smarter Balanced Assessment scores (if you can really get excited about less than 50% of students meeting or exceeding standards) there is a group that is lagging behind – foster care children.

Kristin DeCarr at Education News reports:

For the first time, the scores of the state’s foster youth have been separated by education officials, finding that these students are learning less than their peers.  As the scores for the 2014-15 school year show, the first year that scores of the new, harder exam were reported, 18.8% of students in the foster care system met or exceeded standards on the English exam in comparison with 44.2% of their non-foster peers across the state.  Results were similar in math, with 11.8% of foster students meeting or exceeding standards, while 33.8% of their non-foster peers did the same.

Foster students were also found to have a lower participation rate on the exams.  While 27,651 foster students, 89.8% of those enrolled, took the English exam, 96.1% of non-foster students participated.  Meanwhile, 27,475 foster students, or 89.3%, took the math exam in comparison to 96.3% of their non-foster peers, writes Joy Resmovits for The Los Angeles Times.

Experts believe the lower participation rates to be a reflection of the difficulty with which children move through the foster care system.  A study performed by the nonprofit educational research organization the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd found that just two-thirds of foster students remain in the same school each year.  In addition, it was discovered that one in ten have attended three schools over the course of just one school year.

According to the nonprofit Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, each move to a different school results in a loss of between four and six months of learning.

I worked with at-risk youth for 13 years, including children and youth who were considered CINA or Child in Need of Assistance. These kids were the ones who made up Iowa’s foster care system. From my experience what I can tell you is that there is nothing standards or assessments can do to help these kids achieve academically. That is not the answer. They need stability and they need support.

These kids also disprove the argument that having common standards will help students who change schools. Obviously that isn’t the case. Moving from school to school causes a disruption that no set of standards can address.

Tracking Common Core Spending in California is Problematic


How much has California schools spent on implementing Common Core? Who knows? EdSource reports that budget laws have made tracking the money difficult.

We are shocked….

They report:

The Fresno and Visalia school districts are spending $10 million each on new schools.

San Jose Unified put about $12 million toward staff bonuses, while Santa Ana Unified spent $9 million on retiree benefits.

The money is coming from about $3.6 billion in tax revenues California’s more than 1,000 school districts received over the past two years. The Legislature specified that it “intended” for districts to “prioritize” spending of the one-time funds on implementing academic standards, including Common Core standards in math and English.

But lawmakers also told districts that they first had to spend the funds to pay for any unreimbursed claims for programs and services mandated by the state. They could also spend the funds for “any other purpose.”

That multipronged and even confusing message has prompted several advocates, along with a key legislator on education matters, to argue that the funds should have been targeted for more specific purposes – and that districts should be required to report more precisely how they spent the funds.

Unlike what we’ve seen in other states apparently unfunded mandates in California are not allowed.

Under the California Constitution, the state must reimburse school districts for new programs or higher levels of service the state imposes on them. Over the years, the state has imposed dozens of them, ranging from student health screenings to the California High School Exit Exam.

On one hand it’s great that local school districts are not on the hook for state mandates. On the other hand California loves its additional mandates on local school districts and taxpayers are still on the hook.

Local school districts should have flexibility on how it spends money, but they also need to be transparent about how much money is spent on Common Core implementation. We need to know what this monstrosity of an education reform is costing taxpayers in California and elsewhere.

What Has Caused California’s Teacher Shortage?


I read an article in EdSource that describes the teacher shortage that the state of California is now facing.  In order to mitigate that the schools in the state will have to increasingly turn to “unprepared teachers” to meet the demand.

These are teachers that a report written by Learning Policy Institute defines: “as those who are teaching with a short-term permit, have been given a waiver to teach outside their subject area by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, or have a temporary ‘intern credential.'”

I’m curious why California is facing this teacher shortage to begin with?

EdSource notes:

A particularly disturbing feature of the teacher employment landscape is that the number of new teachers going into math and science has declined, despite ongoing efforts in California and nationally to attract teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to the profession.

For example, the number of new credentials awarded to math teachers has dropped by nearly a third (32 percent) over the last four years. Those awarded to science teachers declined by 14 percent. During the same period, the number of underprepared math teachers increased by 23 percent, while the number of science teachers in this category increased by 51 percent.

The shrinking production of credentialed math teachers comes at a time when far fewer students met or exceeded standards on Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced math tests, compared to those who did so on the English language arts portion of the test. Teacher shortages in these areas, the report says, “are a concern as the state seeks to implement new, more demanding standards in both subject areas (math and science), requiring teachers who deeply understand their content and how to teach it in a way that develops higher order thinking and performance skills.”

There is no single solution to the emerging teaching shortage, the report concludes. Instead, what is needed is a “comprehensive set of strategies at the local and state levels.”

This reveals that the state’s STEM program is a failure if you are not able to convince students to desire to teach math and science.

Yet they never get to the root cause. Could the direction of education reform, standardized assessments and the Common Core have something to do with the teacher shortage? We already have seen one award-winning teacher discourage people from entering the field. We’ve all read stories about teachers resigning or retiring instead of continuing in a system under Common Core. The root cause of California’s problem likely predates Common Core, but I think it’s likely it will exasperate California’s problem in the future.

Less Than Half of California Students Pass Smarter Balanced

california-state-flagLess than half of California’s students passed the Smarter Balanced Assessments last school year, but hey don’t compare it to previous years scores.  Associated Press reports:

Less than half of all California students passed new math and English tests aligned with the Common Core standards and considered indicators of college and career readiness, according to results released Wednesday.

Forty-four percent of students in third through eighth and 11th grades met or exceeded the new language-arts assessment, while 34 percent passed the math test. Though state education officials cautioned against drawing comparisons with previous standardized tests, the results reflect long-standing achievement gaps between low-income and affluent students.

Read more.

This means of course to Common Core advocates that the students simply not proficient.  It doesn’t say anything about the new assessment or standards.  Nothing to see here, move along…

California’s Shameful Lack of Transparency

california-state-flagCalifornia education officials state that Smarter Balanced can’t be fairly compared to their previous exam.  So how do they try to prevent this from happening.  They remove 15 years of test results from their website because…. transparency.

Seriously… EdSource reports:

California Department of Education officials have repeatedly cautioned against comparing students’ scores on past state standardized tests with forthcoming results on tests aligned with the Common Core standards. The academic standards have changed and the tests are different, making comparisons inaccurate, they and others have warned.

Earlier this month, as the department got ready to send parents the initial student scores on the new tests sometime over the next few weeks, department officials deleted old test results going back more than 15 years from the most accessible part of the department’s website, impeding the public’s ability to make those comparisons.

The department has removed results dating back to 1998 in math and English language arts from DataQuest, the website where it posts education data it collects. That includes the database of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, known as STAR, which enabled the public to search results by district, school and student subgroups from grades 3 through 12 since 2003.

On Friday they reconsidered and started to restore the data.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Education moved results from the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program in math and English language arts from the location on our website where we plan to put up results from the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, while continuing to make that information available in research files and in another section of our website, EdData.

We sought to provide clear and relevant information to the public, highlight CAASPP results, and maintain our strong commitment to transparency. Unfortunately, this action was misperceived by some and may have caused confusion. As a result, we are restoring STAR test results to their previous location on our website.