LCAP reviews continue without evaluation tool
(Calif.) This month, county superintendents throughout the state are completing their reviews of accountability plans submitted by local districts – a process that lacks for a second year a key evaluation tool.Limited to using a simple, three-question criteria to determine adequacy of the Local Control Accountability Plans, county offices of education are expected once again to reject only a handful, similar to the number held back last year.
Still, reports from the field suggest county superintendents remain optimistic about the direction that California is taking in redefining student performance and accountability of schools – even though most acknowledge the system will need several more years to become fully operational.
“It’s evolving,” said Peter Birdsall, executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. “It’s evolving very rapidly when you consider that it took us over 20 years to develop the current fiscal accountability system. We obviously need to get this up and running sooner – but I think there’s a broad consensus that we’ve accomplished a lot in just two years.”
Adopted as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s sweeping restructuring of the state’s role in both funding and overseeing K-12 education, the LCAPs were initially envisioned as a reporting vehicle to explain how districts spent new resources for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.
But increasingly, as state officials struggled in another arena to construct a school accountability system not exclusively reliant on test scores, the LCAPs have emerged as the focal point for articulating academic success as well.
As a result, the process that counties and the state will use to evaluate the LCAP is critical as are all the scoring components that will be used.
Last year, the California State Board of Education developed a detailed LCAP template for districts to follow. The multi-page matrix provides dozens of boxes to be filled in, explaining how spending and services fulfill new mandates around eight educational priorities that include increasing pupil achievement; improving student engagement, school climate and pupil and staff safety; and ensuring school facilities are maintained in good repair.
Although local officials have been given wide authority to decide how to spend the extra state dollars, the law requires that districts engage in meaningful dialogue with parents and community stakeholders about the budget and the needs of the students.
Eventually, state officials have said, the LCAPs and its many layers of reporting could serve as the primary tool for telling the public what schools are doing and how students are performing.
Meanwhile, counties are being asked to review the LCAPs using only the three-question criterion included in the original authorizing legislation:
• Has the district properly filled out the LCAP template?
• Does the district have the financial resources to carry out the programs and goals spelled out in the LCAP?
• Does the plan properly direct supplemental state funds at the target student populations?
State law has placed the county offices as the first step in the chain of review for the LCAPs and Birdsall noted that currently, if a district’s plan meets all three conditions, it must be approved.
That is likely to change next fall when the state board is required to finish work on a set of LCAP rubrics – the evaluation tool still missing.
As designed in law, the rubrics will serve two roles – one to help districts evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of LCAPs. Graduation and attendance rates are likely to be rubric components, and expectations are that the state board will assign a numeric performance goal that districts would aim for.
Secondly, state law directs the rubrics to be used in assessing whether districts are making progress on student achievement based on the state’s eight educational priorities.
Birdsall said that once the rubrics have been established, there will be something of a complimentary review process.
“You would start by looking at whether a district has filled out the template, if they have the resources to do what they say they plan to do and if they have allocated the money proportionally to the kids,” he explained.
“Then the rubrics would be used to look at whether you are making progress in improving student achievement,” he said. “If that’s not the case then the county superintendent is required to provide technical assistance – and that’s something else that is still under discussion.”
If the technical assistance from the county level doesn’t seem to be making progress, the next step on the accountability ladder is the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence – a special committee empowered under state law to “advise and assist” school districts, county superintendents or charter schools on performance issues.
State officials have said that the accountability process will not be based on sanctions or penalties but will instead focus on problem-solving and support. Still, if a district repeatedly fails to meet standards, the state superintendent of public instruction, in coordination with the state board, retain broad powers to intervene.
There remains much uncertainty about what measures will be included in the rubrics and how they will ultimately be used. But Birdsall said there is really no mystery surrounding what will make the new system successful.
“A plan is just a plan until you implement it,” he said. “All of this work isn’t just about getting the plan right – it’s about improving what happens at the school level.”
The barriers, he noted, are issues frequently in play before the Legislature and policy makers – how to attract and retain qualified teachers and principals, development of better instructional materials, use assessments to improve instruction and provide more teacher training.
“The LCAP – in my view – is a tool to help us all work together,” he said. “The reason the counties have supported the governor’s plan is because it shifts the system from a state-driven model to one where locals are working together.”
Tom Chorneau:: October 19, 2015:: SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet