Soapbox

School standards should focus on achievement gap

Teacher Hakob Antonyan helps Mickie Rollen, 17, middle, and Michelle Lopez, 15, with an Algebra 2 assignment during a summer school class at Hollywood High School in July.
Teacher Hakob Antonyan helps Mickie Rollen, 17, middle, and Michelle Lopez, 15, with an Algebra 2 assignment during a summer school class at Hollywood High School in July. Los Angeles Times

As an educator for more than 40 years, I believe access to quality education for every student is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.

In the three years since the state dismantled its school accountability system to make way for the Local Control Funding Formula, we have discussed and debated what the state’s new school accountability system should aim to achieve. But the time has come to finally establish an accountability system that will do right by all of our kids.

That is why the Legislature, with unanimous bipartisan support, helped me send Assembly Bill 2548 to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. AB 2548 sets clear performance standards for schools that will focus on closing gaps in academic achievement between low-income students and their higher-income peers.

Because parent empowerment is critical to a child’s success, the bill also requires that easily accessible information on school performance be made available. Providing this information doesn’t have to be boiled down to a single number, such as the former Academic Performance Index, but it absolutely has to be crystal clear.

Because the state had separate state and federal accountability systems under No Child Left Behind, schools had the unnecessarily difficult task of complying with both. AB 2548 would resolve this by calling for the adoption of a single statewide accountability system that aligns state standards with the new federal accountability requirements under the Every Child Succeeds Act.

The state Board of Education just adopted school accountability standards, yet this approach doesn’t address critical issues that lawmakers, educators and civil rights advocates believe are necessary to ensure a quality education for all of California’s students.

As AB 2548 made its way through the legislative process, the board was prompted to adopt some, but not all, of the bill’s provisions. Signing this bill into law would ensure that parents and students get the school accountability system they deserve.

Despite the promise of the new funding formula to boost student performance, California is still one of the lowest performing states and has some of the largest achievement gaps. We have the second largest gap in fourth-grade reading and math scores between low-income and higher-income students, a disparity that will likely affect the rest of their academic careers.

The Legislature built supplemental grants into the funding formula to improve the academic outcomes of those students who were falling behind, but because we don’t yet have a comprehensive and meaningful school accountability structure, we do not have a clear picture of whether that is actually occurring or not.

When the Legislature approved the Local Control Funding Formula, we provided local school districts with the flexibility they wanted, but this is also a statewide system, with state-determined expectations that must be met for every student. That means we, as legislators and state policymakers, have a responsibility to guarantee all students, not just those fortunate enough to attend school in high-performing districts, benefit from Californians’ investment in our public education system.

There is growing consensus that California needs a robust accountability system focused on equity and closing achievement gaps. That’s why AB 2548 has received support from more than 300 civil rights, business, education and community groups.

By signing AB 2548 into law, the governor can fulfill the promise of LCFF and achieve what he set out to do in enacting his signature education initiative: help all students achieve more, support our most vulnerable kids and take bold action to close the achievement gap.

Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, represents the 79th Assembly District. She can be contacted at joe.kocurek@asm.ca.gov.

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