Teaching & Learning

ESSA: Continuous Improvement

California’s ESSA plan poised to make change

“ Our plan is grounded in the Local Control Funding Formula law, which emphasizes local control, equity, stakeholder engagement, accountability and continuous improvement.”
—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

After a long, drawn-out process, it appears a compromise between the State Board of Education (SBE) and the federal government on the much- debated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) may finally pass muster.

On April 12, the SBE approved revisions to the plan that outlines the use and management of $2.4 billion in federal assistance to the state’s neediest students. Now it’s on to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for final approval.

“The revisions in the plan maintain the core principles of California’s approach to accountability and continuous improvement, which is based on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and reflects the extensive stakeholder input from the past four years,” says Patricia Rucker, CTA’s legislative advocate.

Every state that receives funding under ESSA is required to submit a plan to the ED that meets federal requirements. California, however, experienced a particularly difficult time of it. The first draft of the plan was criticized by one of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ administrators in December. The federal administrator was especially critical of the California School Dashboard, which uses multicolored icons to show performance levels of multiple measures of school success, and questioned its legality.

That critique resulted in weeks of negotiations between the state and federal officials.

California’s ESSA plan involved a two-year process that received comments from thousands of Californians. The plan affirms the state’s commitment to LCFF, its broad overhaul of school funding and accountability. That formula provides an extra $10.1 billion annually to districts that serve low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Under the revised plan, the multicolored dashboard will remain intact, though
the federal administrator required changes that included clearer targets to measure schools’ interim progress and more prominence to 11th-grade test results. The new plan uses multiple data points including graduation rates, suspension rates and test scores to give a more complete picture of school success.

“Our plan is grounded in California’s Local Control Funding Formula law, which
emphasizes local control, equity, stakeholder engagement, accountability and continuous improvement,” says state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “Now we look forward to the United States Department of Education’s approval and to implementing the plan.”

CTA, however, had encouraged the SBE to seek a waiver from the ED because
the plan sets up two separate systems (state and federal) for determining lowest performing schools, and continues to rely heavily on test scores. CTA believes the state must craft a broader explanation that gets beyond test scores to include issues such as school climate, access to resources and courses, and support for English learners.

The SBE will now begin the work of deciding what support the lowest-performing
schools will receive, and where those schools will find that support. All of this is to be done before the plan is implemented in the fall.

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