Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Achievement of Students

The Vision

Student achievement is a central tenet of this Master Plan for Education. We envision an education system in which all students enrolled in public schools, colleges, or universities in this state will have educational experiences that provide them with a measurable set of knowledge and skills that equips them for success at every level of their educational journey. That journey would begin at birth with parents providing the nourishment, health care, and stimulating experiences that foster a disposition for learning in children. The State would broker federal, state, and local resources to ensure that those families needing assistance to help their children become ready learners would be able to find such assistance in their local communities, perhaps at their local school sites, where they could establish early relationships with education providers.

We envision California's schools, colleges, and universities staffed by qualified teachers, administrators, and other professional staff who would view themselves more as advanced learners than expert dispensers of knowledge and skills. They would clearly communicate the learning expectations they would have for the students who come to them, determine those students' respective strengths and weaknesses, create formal and/or informal teaching and learning plans to help those students meet their learning expectations, and would convey an enthusiasm for teaching and learning. Informed by a clear set of state standards for teaching, learning, and facilities, educational providers would collaborate with each other continuously to ensure that curriculum were aligned across grade levels and sectors and that a variety of assessments were developed to measure both teaching and learning outcomes. These assessments would be used strategically to determine how well students were mastering the course content, and students would be provided timely feedback on their progress. When appropriate, students who could benefit from it would be provided supplemental learning support, including accommodations for physical or cognitive disabilities, to help them meet learning expectations, or would be provided opportunities for advanced learning. A shared objective of every public school would be to dramatically reduce the number of students who drop out of school prior to earning a high school diploma.

Teachers and faculty also would reflect on the impact of their efforts to instill a disposition for learning in all the students with whom they work - a critical factor in retaining students - and on mastery by their students of the academic content and skills they teach. They would share their successes and failures with colleagues in an effort to learn of more effective, or at least more promising, strategies that could be tried to achieve more positive outcomes among the students with whom they have been least effective. They would participate in customized professional development activities, to help them learn new skills to improve their effectiveness with diverse students, remain current in the range of career and technical applications of the knowledge and skills they teach, and/or develop comfort with the effective use of technology to better achieve their instructional objectives.

School and campus administrators would continuously monitor the condition and maintenance of facilities to ensure that they provide a positive teaching and learning environment. They would communicate regularly with teachers/faculty to determine their needs and would strive to ensure that teachers have the tools they need to continue being effective with every student. They would regularly review data on student achievement to identify teaching and learning trends that might warrant more attention, and institutional performance data to determine if resources were being used most effectively and efficiently. They would actively engage with representatives of community groups and agencies both to attract fiscal and political support for their institutions and to build broader 'learning communities' that reinforce the learning objectives of the institutions when students return to their homes and neighborhoods. This support would be channeled into supplemental service-learning opportunities that teachers could use to build a sense of civic and community involvement and to reinforce learning objectives.

Required state testing would serve two purposes. First, it would provide an aggregate picture to state agencies as one indicator of how well public education institutions were performing in meeting California's standards for teaching and learning with the resources made available to them. Testing data would be balanced by an institutional profile of the teaching and learning opportunities within which educational providers work and students learn. For these test data to be an effective indicator, the test would also be aligned with the academic content standards that guide what is taught in every public school. Second, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) would be used in conjunction with California's standards-based test to permit California to compare the achievement of its students with that of students in other states.

We envision California's postsecondary education institutions' developing an assessment instrument that would provide an indicator of how well public colleges and universities were doing in helping postsecondary education students master the common body of knowledge represented by the general education requirements that all undergraduate students are expected to complete. As part of their regular program review process, faculty within public colleges and universities would begin to develop standards for knowledge and skills that students majoring in specific academic disciplines would be expected to master, and would routinely assess achievement of these expectations. Our public colleges and universities would continuously review data on student achievement in an effort to identify the types of learning and social support that might result in greater success and persistence through certificate, credential, or degree completion by each enrolled student. Academic strengths and weaknesses of students revealed through this data analysis would be used to focus continuous faculty dialogue with high school teachers and, in the case of our two public university systems, with their community college counterparts.

Public colleges and universities would revise their reward structures to recognize faculty who were particularly effective in promoting student achievement and would actively encourage them to serve as mentors to newly hired faculty. Differentiation of function among faculty would be an accepted practice within public colleges and universities. Faculty who were particularly effective researchers would collaborate with colleagues who were particularly effective teachers, in a continuous effort to infuse new knowledge into the curriculum to which students would be exposed. Faculty who were particularly good at developing learning modules and course curriculum would routinely collaborate with technologists to develop effective ways to promote learning for every student, whether the student is physically present in a classroom or participating in learning activities at a different place and time. Faculty would blend their collective strengths and skills to provide professional development activities for all faculty that would enable each of them to improve their abilities to be effective teachers.

In short, we envision California's education system's becoming one of more- and less-advanced learners, with more-advanced learners (our current teaching, administrative, and professional personnel) engaged in continuous reflection on the teaching-learning process, in an effort to improve educational outcomes for all learners. Parents would be deliberately engaged as primarily responsible for preparing their children to become ready learners prior to the age of compulsory school attendance. State control agencies would review data on institutional and student performance to identify areas of need for improved learning opportunities for all children, particularly in schools serving communities with high concentrations of low-income families, and would seek to broker resources to ensure that needed services were provided and used effectively.

What is Needed

A focus on student achievement also requires that there be a clear statement of expectations, regular measurement of the extent to which these expectations are being achieved, and a database sufficient to preserve data on student achievement over time and inform judgments of the extent to which changes are needed. Different types of data are required for different purposes, and it is important to keep these distinctions clear. Data needed to improve teaching and learning are different from data needed to evaluate institutional performance or the impact of education policies. The State should collect only those data that are appropriate for the responsibility it has retained for itself in implementing this Master Plan. Not everything that may be important to the successful implementation of this Master Plan and to improving the achievement of every student is easily measured. Nor is everything that can be measured important.

Assessment of Student Learning Needs and Achievement

Support should be available to meet student learning needs at every level of learning. Supplemental support programs, at every level from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education, must focus on having all students 'learn the first time' rather than having to relearn or 'catch up' at developmentally inappropriate times. Well-constructed and appropriately used assessment can be an effective way to ensure that students receive the learning support they need when it is most useful and before they fall into a cycle of failure. There are several critical transition points at which teachers and faculty should be most attentive to students' needs as they progress through California's education system. These include the following:

Pre-K to grades 1-3. Children begin their lives with endless possibilities. They enter school enthusiastic, motivated, and hoping to succeed. However, many students, especially in low-income neighborhoods, enter a disjointed education system that is ill-equipped to meet their needs. Students who struggle in the first grade quickly become unmotivated and do not participate in the very activities they need most. These children begin a pattern of academic frustration that usually continues throughout their education. After the 3rd grade, a child's academic achievement level appears to remain remarkably stable throughout the remaining school years. If students are not at grade level in reading and math by the 3rd grade, that status continues throughout their education.

From the 3rd to the 4th grade and throughout the upper elementary years. Educators have established a benchmark that students should read at grade level by the time they reach 4th grade. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, however, reports that less than one-third of the nation's 4th graders are proficient in reading. In California, fewer than one-quarter of 4th graders are proficient in reading. When students fall behind in the first three grades, schools often then hold them back. In some inner city schools, as many as one-fourth of the primary children repeat a grade. Unfortunately, research on grade retention consistently finds that students' attitudes often worsen and their skills do not improve when they are retained, particularly when there are no improvements in the teaching and learning strategies used. Intentionally linking learning to a student's current and future life through enrichment activities, such as beginning career exploration, can add greater relevance and understanding about the purpose of schooling in these early settings.

Into and through middle school to high school. Middle school organization and curriculum varies from school district to school district, ranging from departmentalized course offerings to integrated core curricula. Whatever structure a district selects, it must support students to learn the material and skills contained in the State's academic standards; and it must avoid separating students into different curricular paths with different expectations for learning - an outcome that becomes increasingly likely for each student with the transition from a single to multiple teachers. All middle schools should strive to help students take charge of their own learning, become independent learners and thinkers (qualities critical to their future academic and career success), and develop the confidence that they will graduate from high school qualified for transition to a career or postsecondary education. This confidence must be realistically based on students' clear understanding of the necessary academic preparation for high school graduation and postsecondary education, financial requirements of postsecondary education and assistance available to meet those requirements, career options, and other elements necessary to ensure their success in high school no matter what post-high school option they choose.

High school graduation and beyond. It is common to see students as having two options upon graduating from high school: graduates will go either to work or to college. Although it is true most students eventually 'wind up' in one of these places, it is inaccurate to say that many have a genuine choice. In our PreK-12 education system, the choice of immediately joining the workforce or attending college is usually made far before high school graduation, typically via course choices made by students with incomplete information. To discourage students from foreclosing postsecondary education options, California's education system must change the common perception that less is expected of students bound for the workplace, community college, or proprietary schools than of those who intend to go to a baccalaureate degree-granting college or university. California high schools, adult and alternative education schools, regional occupation centers and programs, and postsecondary education must all be understood as components of one education system. Integrated instruction, which emphasizes application of knowledge within contemporary contexts, would complement a systemic school-to-career strategy and may increase student motivation to learn and remain in school.

To ensure that students' needs are assessed properly and that students are provided learning support in a timely manner, we offer the following recommendations: