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How Would California Reshape Accountability in the New ESSA Era?

The No Child Left Behind Act may be a thing of the past, but its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, won't be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year.

So where does that leave states without waivers from NCLB when it comes to some of the most hated vestiges of the old law—"adequate yearly progress" and the requirement that districts set aside money for choice and tutoring if their schools fail to meet targets?

California may soon find out. The Golden State is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a reprieve from both AYP (the yardstick at the heart of NCLB) and the requirement that 20 percent of federal Title I money must be set-aside for school choice and tutoring.

California has asked for the flexibility on Title I funding before and been rebuffed. But the state may have more luck now that ESSA, which doesn't call for the set-aside, is the law of the land.

What's more, other folks seem to be hoping for similar leeway. Jeff Simmering, a lobbyist for the Council of the Great City Schools, pleaded with the department to make it clear that states and districts no longer have to hold back funds for old interventions on Monday, during a public meeting on ESSA regulation.

On the state's other ask: California has already gotten big wiggle room on AYP. But it's unclear if that will continue going forward. ESSA makes provisions for states with waivers (more than 40 states in all). It says those states must continue to focus on their lowest performing schools during the 2016-17 school year, until their new accountability plans are in place. But it's less certain what happens for states that never had waivers, like California. We should find out soon.

Meanwhile, the Golden State, which has arguably been a thorn in the Obama administration's side when it comes to K-12, has some advice for the acting secretary John King and his crew as they try to regulate the new law.

Maybe unsurprisingly, California's state board president, Mike Kirst, and its state chief, Tom Torlakson are going for maximum flexibility here.

Their suggestions dovetail with California's own still-under-construction accountability system, which seeks to look holistically at school performance and put districts in the drivers' seat.

Specifically California officials want states to be able to:

  • Go for "continuous improvement of schools" rather than reaching for a specific long-term goal; 
  • Use multiple measures when examining school performance, not just a single score on an index or state rating system; 
  • Avoid giving a numerical weight to every factor they look at for accountability (like tests, or school climate). States should just make sure they consider each factor in some way to differentiate school performance;
  • Consider a wide range of factors, not just test scores, when figuring out which schools are low-performing; 
  • Rate low-performing districts, not just schools. (Massachusetts and about ten other states already do this.)

More here.

Kirst, Torlaksen, and the rest of the California gang will get a chance to voice these recommendations next week, when the education department holds a public meeting on ESSA regulation out in Los Angeles.

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