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1 in 4 California school districts required to get county help based on new state performance data

By John Fensterwald, EdSource
One in 4 California school districts received notice that they must work with county offices of education or with a new state agency to improve the education of at least one of their student groups that were ranked among the worst performers on the California School Dashboard, a new school and district grading system released on Thursday.
In two-thirds of the 228 districts designated for assistance, students receiving special education services were among student groups identified as performing very poorly. In half of the designated districts, students with disabilities were the only student group flagged.
The districts must now take a hard look, with help by the county or the new California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, at the factors behind the low achievement of students whose disabilities range from mild learning deficits to severe physical and emotional handicaps.
“With the Dashboard, California is shining a light on inequities by identifying the students that need the most help within a district and pinpointing their areas of challenge,” said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst in a press release. “These are students whose struggles would have been masked under a less comprehensive accountability system.”
The dashboard debuted last spring, which gave school and districts, as well as the public, a chance to familiarize themselves with the data and use it to guide priorities and spending for this year. The new data release provides more current information, including 2016-17 suspension and graduation rates, along with the results from last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts.
The updated dashboard also initiates county office- and state-guided support, the next step in the state’s school accountability system. Only districts, not individual schools, will receive assistance this year. Next month, the State Board of Education will designate for assistance in 2018-19 the lowest performing 300 low-income schools. The board will use slightly different criteria set by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
In creating the dashboard, the Legislature sought to evaluate schools by more than standardized test scores. It included indicators of school climate and student engagement, which are among eight priorities that districts must address. To confront achievement gaps hidden behind averages for all students, the Legislature focused on results of individual student subgroups.
A focus on special education students is long overdue, said Arun Ramanathan, CEO of Pivot Learning, a nonprofit providing technical assistance to school districts in California. “The academic performance data on students with disabilities reflects nearly a decade of neglect at the state and local level to their needs, specifically in the area of reading instruction. California is woefully behind other states in adopting best practices in special education,” said Ramanathan who formerly oversaw special education services as Chief Student Services Officer for the San Diego Unified School District.
Students with disabilities were not alone in being ranked at the bottom on the dashboard:

In 27 districts, African-American students were designated for assistance.
In 19 districts, English learners were designated for assistance.
In five districts, Hispanic students were designated for assistance.
Eight districts, including Sacramento City Unified and Twin Rivers in Sacramento County, Oakland Unified and Salinas Union High School District, have four student groups designated for assistance. In Konocti Unified, a 3,000-student rural district in Lake County, five student groups were designated: American Indian, African-American, white, homeless and low-income students.

Of California’s 58 county offices of education, 48 have districts that requiring assistance, including Los Angeles (19 districts), Tulare (11) and San Diego (10). Ten county offices, either with few districts (Alpine and Sierra) or mostly wealthy districts (Napa and Marin) have no districts qualifying.
This story originally appeared on EdSource is an independent journalism organization that works to engage Californians on key education challenges with the goal of enhancing learning success.
Source: Oc Register

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