The nine California districts seeking a first-of-its-kind waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act have made key changes to their proposed accountability system in an effort to win approval from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Most notably, the districts are dropping plans to count only the test scores from the last grade in each school for accountability purposes.
The districts, known as CORE for California Office to Reform Education, also lowered the accountability subgroup "n size" to 20 from 100. That's the number of students needed in each school's subgroup for the scores to count for accountability purposes. (The CORE districts, unlike many states that have received waivers are sticking with traditional NCLB subgroups rather than grouping them together into a larger "supersubgroup" of at-risk students.)
And, CORE also got more specific on what counts for what in its accountability system. Based on its revised plan, 60 percent of a school's rating would be based on test scores, graduation rates and other academic factors; 20 percent on social and emotional factors such as discipline rates; and the remaining 20 percent on cultural factors such as climate surveys and special education identification rates.
"We are ready to be held to a much higher standard," said Richard Carranza, the San Francisco schools superintendent, in a conference call today with reporters. Other CORE districts are Clovis Unified, Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento, Sanger, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, and Fresno.
Based on the notes federal officials sent back to the CORE districts, the outside peer reviewers who helped the federal Education Department vet the application were most concerned about a lack of detail. For example, the peer reviewers wanted more information about subgroup accountability, how new Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) would be set, how "reward" schools would be rewarded, and how teachers will be involved in the crafting of new evaluation systems. (The summary of the peer reviewers' concerns is five pages long.)
The CORE districts expect to have to make even more changes before they win approval, said CORE executive director Rick Miller, but really need to have an answer by July 1. After that, districts need to start signing agreements with outside tutoring companies that provide services under the existing NCLB law to students in failing schools.
It's important to note that from now on, the negotiations over this waiver are between the CORE districts and the feds; the outside peer review process is now over.