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San Diego Assemblywoman Says New School Grading System Needs Work

America's Finest Charter School fifth grade teacher Kim Brunetto helps a stud...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: America's Finest Charter School fifth grade teacher Kim Brunetto helps a student with a writing assignment, Nov. 2, 2015.

The California State Board of Education has approved sweeping changes to the way it measures school success. But less than a week after its vote, a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego could send board members back to the drawing board.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to weigh in this week on a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber that seeks to use the new school grading system to narrow the achievement gap.

Gov. Jerry Brown this week is expected to weigh in on Weber's bill, which seeks to use the new school grading system to narrow the achievement gap.

Under the old system, parents had to consult a school's Academic Performance Index, or API, score, which more or less said how well the school did on standardized tests. Under the new system, they'll get a dashboard where a variety of measures like suspension rates, absenteeism and how the school's English-language learners are doing will hold equal weight with academic achievement.

Weber is a proponent of the holistic approach but worries the board moved too far away from academic performance, and wasted an opportunity to lift up the state's lowest-performing students.

"In English Language Arts, fewer than half of Latino students and fewer than one in three African American students are meeting or exceeding standards, while in math, fewer than one in four African American and Latino students meet this benchmark," Weber said at Thursday's California State Board of Education meeting.

The bill currently on the governor's desk would add weight to test scores when assessing the school's overall performance, said Samantha Tran of the student advocacy group, Children Now. It would also require the board to set standards that mandate schools demonstrate greater progress among students of color.

"We really need to focus on (achievement) gap closure and not just general improvement," Tran said.

School accountability measures not only tell parents how their children's schools are doing; they tell officials where to direct resources.

"There are schools and districts where gaps are significantly narrowing or nonexistent," Weber said at the Thursday meeting. "We need to be easily able to compare data across schools and districts to identify these successes, and then through collaboration and support help other schools and districts make similar types of progress."

In an op-ed, the state school board's president Michael Kirst wrote that disparities among student groups would be easy to spot on the dashboard. He also said boiling down all of the measure into one comprehensive grade, or giving one measure more weight than the other, goes against the goal of the new system — to let parents decide what's most important for their family.

Brown has until the end of the month to sign the bill.

The state must present its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education later this fall. It aims to implement the new accountability plan next school year.

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