Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Accountability for Learner Outcomes and Institutional Performance

The Vision

We envision an education system in which student achievement will not be left to chance or 'innate' intelligence, which will not tolerate sorting of students into tracks in which less is expected of some students than others, and which will categorically reject the notion that student achievement must be distributed along a bell curve. California would build and sustain an education system that would hold itself collectively accountable for the achievement of all students at or above a common standard; collect and analyze data regularly to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of its education providers; direct resources to build capacity in schools, colleges, and universities performing below desired levels; encourage replication of effective practices; and allow flexibility in the approaches taken by education institutions to achieve desired outcomes.

Our accountability system would have clear statements of a limited set of goals for each level of education provided in the state. We reaffirm our belief in, and commitment to, brokering federal, state, and local resources to ensure that families would have access to resources to provide nourishment, health care, and stimulating experiences for their young children so that they would be ready to learn upon entry to formal schooling. Elected officials would routinely ask for and analyze data on the numbers of poor families with children in California who were not receiving health care and early developmental screening to detect potential impediments to proper child development. Incentives would be provided to health and child care providers to collaborate with each other to reach unserved families with children residing in neighborhoods served by low-performing schools.

We would begin a process of expanding access to preschool for all families who desire to take advantage of it and would make full day kindergarten a requirement for all children of compulsory attendance age. We would phase in these educational services both to better manage the cost of implementation and to ensure particular attention to the improvement of the educational opportunities for students residing in neighborhoods served by our lowest performing schools before extension of those benefits to families served by higher performing schools. We would regularly review data on the achievement of students who participate in preschool and extended day kindergarten to determine how their achievement compared with that of their peers who did not participate in these services. We would also review data on the qualifications and experiences of the teachers of these students and note where additional school capacity might be required. We would require that all students enrolling in kindergarten undergo developmental screening, or have parents provide evidence that such screening had already been conducted, to ensure that any disabilities that might impede learning were identified early and appropriate interventions prescribed.

We would adhere to our academic content standards, establish desired proficiency levels for each area, strengthen our teacher preparation programs to ensure all new teachers have the content knowledge and skills to teach to those standards, complete development of criterion-referenced assessment instruments to measure student achievement, and routinely mail school report cards to parents of enrolled students. These report cards would contain information on student achievement, and average school, district, and state achievement results. We would expand the School Accountability Report Card to include in it indicators of the 'opportunities for teaching and learning' that are provided in the schools and include these indicators in the Superintendent of Public Instruction's reporting of the Academic Performance Index, and thereby assist parents in understanding both the achievement of their children relative to the opportunities provided to them, and the opportunities their children receive in comparison to the opportunities indicators that derive from the California Quality Education Model. We would direct local districts to carefully monitor student achievement data and expenditures at each school under their jurisdiction but would require annual submission of only a limited set of data on student characteristics and achievement, personnel characteristics, and status of compliance with state standards. We would identify a clear set of progressive interventions to be implemented based on evaluation of institutional performance. For low-performing schools, emphasis would be given to assessing the balance between institutional capacity and motivation. Early interventions would be aimed at increasing institutional capacity, while more severe interventions would involve dissolution of district or school leadership and appointment of new supervisory teams drawn from local constituencies and monitored by regional offices of education on behalf of the State. For high-performing schools, early interventions would focus on public recognition of schools and/or districts and listing of them as a referral for technical assistance in replicating effective practices. Continuous high performance would be rewarded with supplemental appropriations to districts/schools to enhance professional development, capacity to provide technical assistance to other schools, and improvement of teaching and learning conditions.

We envision making substantial progress in our efforts to measure student achievement in a common body of knowledge taught by all postsecondary education institutions, allowing for locally defined measures unique to our community colleges, California State University, and University of California systems. Each of our public postsecondary education systems would agree to use a modified high school exit examination as a basis for determining readiness of high school students to enroll in collegiate courses within their sector. The exam would be administered in the 11th grade year, and each system would determine an achievement score appropriate to expectations of student readiness. High school students interested in attending the California State University or the University of California, but not achieving high enough scores on the exit exam, would focus their efforts in the 12th grade to achieving the necessary levels of proficiency, and eliminating any need for remedial instruction upon college enrollment. Both the California State University and the University of California systems would provide assistance to high schools by training successful undergraduate and graduate students to provide learning support to high school students and/or encouraging them to engage in service learning activities as part of their curricular requirements. Local community colleges would provide opportunities for high school seniors to enroll concurrently to further strengthen their readiness for college or university enrollment and to accelerate their progress toward earning collegiate certificates or degrees. All three public sectors of postsecondary education would routinely provide feedback to high school principals, and to English or math department chairs as appropriate, data on the academic performance of their graduates in English and math courses completed at their respective system campuses.

We would establish a transfer associate degree program that would smooth the transition of community college students to the California State University and the University of California systems, or to California's independent colleges and universities with minimal or no loss of time or credits. The academic senates of the individual system would collaborate to revise and enhance the charge of their voluntary Intersegmental Council of Academic Senates to take the lead in efforts to align courses among the systems and class levels and to promote efficient updates when course content were revised to reflect new knowledge generated through the research of their peers. Faculty within the University of California and the California State University systems would strengthen their collaboration with each other to articulate graduate programs at the masters and doctorate levels as a means of recruiting students from underrepresented groups into, and expediting their completion of, advanced degree programs. While limiting their initial efforts to masters and doctoral programs within the same discipline, they would be prompted by the potential benefits to students to next turn their attention to opportunities for articulating graduate programs across disciplines.

We would clearly communicate the state expectation that adult education programs are intended to equip adults with skills and knowledge to be self-sufficient. A set of indicators would be in place permitting regular evaluation of the effectiveness of adult education programs. We would ensure that adequate funding would be provided to support provision of basic educational skills, English literacy and proficiency, vocational preparation, and civics in every adult education program. Establishment and modification of standards and measures for adult education performance would be located within the Department of Education, and adult education services would be delivered by high school districts independently or in collaboration with local community colleges and community-based agencies. Adult education providers would also collaborate with the State's Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which would be assigned primary responsibility for public and private workforce preparation programs, in order to ensure coordination and alignment of training production and workforce demand. Adult education programs would also be customized throughout the state by augmentation of services in the previously mentioned priority areas with other courses and training needed by adults in local communities to become self sufficient and productive members of society.

Beyond their traditional goal of providing broad access to postsecondary education, state officials would also be clearly focused on ensuring the success of those students who chose to enroll. To further this end, the California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California systems would be required to annually submit all data required by the National Center for Educational Statistics and a limited set of additional data on desired student outcomes and characteristics, personnel characteristics, expenditures, and compliance with state standards. All required data would be reported by unique student identifier, to enable longitudinal monitoring of student outcomes and would be consistently submitted to the State's intersegmental education commission. Independent and private colleges and universities would be requested to submit similar data and, for certain key data on student outcomes, we would condition continued eligibility to participate in the State's financial aid program on compliance with this request.

We would take steps to better ensure quality in the educational offerings of private, for-profit institutions offering degrees, by transferring oversight and program approval to the State's postsecondary education commission. We believe this step would be necessary to ensure that students who chose to enroll in these institutions received an education of a quality equivalent to that of public and not-for-profit, accredited independent institutions and to facilitate transitions, with minimal or no loss of credits, between and among all postsecondary education institutions approved to operate in the state. This accomplishment would not only provide greater equity in expectations for quality but would contribute to a more efficient postsecondary education enterprise by relieving some of the demand for enrollment in public institutions. The State's intersegmental education commission would monitor data on student outcomes in each type of institution and advise the Legislature and Governor of any trends indicating a need for increased scrutiny and of practices associated with high performance that might warrant replication and should therefore be disseminated.

We would anticipate the educational needs of Californians in the future by charging the State's education commissions to regularly engage in long-term planning, using comprehensive educational and demographic data as a basis for that planning. The education commissions would also collaborate with the Department of Finance's Demographic Research Unit to incorporate the unit's forecasts of California population trends and progression through public schools, and with the Governor's chief state education officer to evaluate the effectiveness of state policy intended to improve education outcomes and coordination.

What is Needed?

For many, the concept of accountability is limited to the acts of measuring, reporting, and responding to schools' and students' test scores. Once scores are reported, the schools or students are 'held accountable' through systems of rewards and sanctions, or perhaps simply publicity. Significantly, such accountability most often flows in a particular direction; students, and then their teachers and parents, are likely to be 'held accountable' by school boards, the State, or the public. There are few mechanisms for students, teachers, or families to hold accountable anyone else with responsibility in the education system. The current statewide Academic Performance Index (API), School Accountability Report Cards (SARC), and the Intensive Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP) are the State's first steps toward a useful accountability system that can support education in California. They should be continued and refined to enhance their effectiveness in identifying student needs and resource deficits and promoting improvements in teaching and learning.

Even within this narrow conception of accountability as measurement and response, California must expand its view to a system of shared accountability in which improved learning results are tightly linked to improved conditions for learning. Systemic, shared accountability includes those things that the State and school districts are responsible for providing to ensure a high-quality education for all students as well as a regular review of data to evaluate school offerings and use of resources to promote student achievement.

Once the fundamental prerequisite for accountability - linkage of authority with responsibility - has been met, there is still the question of how effective discharge of that responsibility can be compelled. At both the state and local levels, of course, the voters have the ultimate power to act on their judgment of the performance of elected representatives and officers. This Plan describes a structure that ensures that the public will be provided complete information regarding that performance. Moreover, within government, the Legislature and Governor share the power that comes with budgetary authority: the ultimate sanction at their disposal is simply to reduce or eliminate funding for entities or officials that are not performing satisfactorily. However, reducing funding for a low-performing school district, for example, is not generally a constructive approach; doing so merely further impairs the district's ability to perform and is contrary to the priority placed on promoting student achievement in this Plan. More often, a curtailment of discretionary expenditure authority is a more effective basic approach - that is, rather than taking away a portion of a school district's (or other entity's) funding, the Legislature and Governor, or an authority acting pursuant to their instructions, can sequester an appropriate amount of that district's funding and direct how it must be expended to improve a specific aspect or aspects of the district's performance. Discretionary expenditure authority can then be restored when the district's performance has improved. Accountability's real task is completed, in other words, not when blame is assigned for failure or punishment is meted out, but when accountability mechanisms lead to changes that foster adequate learning opportunities and improved outcomes.