Moving Towards a More Thorough System for Accountability in California

About three weeks ago, the California Board of Education adopted key elements to a rubric that is being developed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of local education agencies. While the status of this new accountability plan is important, first, it is important to remember where we are coming from and why this should matter to us all as education advocates in California.


For more than a decade, California worked under two accountability systems: the state Academic Performance Index (API) and the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

The API first came about as part of the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999. The API rated a school’s performance using CA Standards Test scores in core content areas (grades 2-11) and the California High School Exit Exam in ELA and Math. Each school and district would then receive a score between 200 to 1000, with a target of 800; schools and districts that did not meet this target were then required to demonstrate yearly progress toward the target 800 API score. However, with the shift to Common Core in 2013, the state suspended the use of API calculations.

In addition to following API metrics, schools and districts were also required to meet the federal AYP guidelines. AYP measures were put in place under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The metrics for AYP included the percentage of students in each school and subgroup that would achieve proficiency in English language arts and math each year. Since the API and AYP had two different targets, California ended up having conflicting accountability systems which meant one school could be succeeding in one system’s evaluation system but still be failing in the other. However, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which eliminated the NCLB, the AYP accountability requirements were also suspended. The US Department of Education has not yet released a thorough accountability system for ESSA, but the California Department of Education has already started working on their own transitional plan to help local education agencies prepare for the new accountability systems.

Enough about the past, where are we now?

With the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula in California in 2013, which gave local education agencies complete responsibility over funding allocations and provided a weighted student funding formula, attached came changed systems of accountability as well. One of these changes was the creation of evaluation rubrics to measure district, school and subgroup performance. These rubrics have now become a key piece of the state’s revamped accountability system. The rubrics include multiple indicators aligned to several of the state’s priority areas established by the Local Control Funding Formula. The State Board has already voted to include the following state indicators in the rubrics:

  1.     Test scores in grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Math, and Science when available 
  2.     English proficiency
  3.     Graduation rates
  4.     Chronic absenteeism rates
  5.     Suspension rates
  6.     College and Career readiness index

In essence, these evaluation rubrics will be used to determine a local education agency’s eligibility for assistance and will also measure its success and effectiveness.

In addition to these indicators, the State Board of Education has also approved the use of a color-coded performance evaluation tool using the most recent year and its three-year improvement trajectory to measure progress.

Along with this, the State Board of Education has also approved performance standards to measure whether local education agencies, have met, not met, or not met for two or more years the following local indicators:

  •      Access to curriculum-aligned instructional materials, safe environments, functional facilities and appropriate teacher assignments;
  •      Implementation of state academic standards (common core);
  •      Parent engagement;
  •      Local climate surveys;
  •      Coordination of services for expelled students; and
  •      Coordination of services for foster youth

While the State Board of Education has also adopted a system for identifying when a local education agency needs assistance to meet performance targets, there are still unresolved issues on the table. These issues include the need for cut scores for state assessments; a thorough measuring tool for the college and career indicator, amongst others.

Even though the state still has work to do before finalizing the new accountability system, the addition of indicators outside of test scores creates a promising opportunity for more differentiated measures for schools and districts.

Why does this all matter?

It is crucial that we voice our feedback and recommendations. Once the California Department of Education has a draft plan of the new school accountability system ready for review, there will be a 30-day comment period during which stakeholders can submit their feedback and recommendations on the plan. The CA Department of Education has shared November 18-January 20th as the intended period for which the plan will be open for comment.

We are all our students’ biggest advocates. Lets keep that in mind every time a new update is released and ensure we submit thoughtful feedback to help develop a plan that will truly measure student outcome and not simply rate their test taking abilities.

What do you think?

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One thought on “Moving Towards a More Thorough System for Accountability in California

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    This is all nicely phrased, but inadequately critical of the conflicting, but both wrong, directions being taken by DC and Sacramento; and well-informed families will continue to be wise to opt their children out of state schooling whenever possible until new leadership repeals the undead zombie survivor of No Child Left Behind, which is the “Every Student Succeeds” act, and returns to states their constitutional authority over education, which states like California should further devolve to local education authorities willing to direct secondary schools away from a test-based accountability strategy that has failed America’s children, especially its most vulnerable.

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