California Education Dialogue

A public policy dialogue produced by Information Renaissance
with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,
IBM Corporation and Intel Corporation



About Dialogues

Briefing Book

Discussion Archive


Report of the Working Group on Student Learning


Executive Summary


First Principles: California’s PreK-12-University Master Plan must Ensure Educational Quality and Choice for All Students, and Enable Equitable Results

Challenging Goals and Curriculum for All Students

Recommendation 1: Set ambitious learning goals and provide all students a challenging K-12 curriculum, including preparation for postsecondary schooling.

Guaranteed Opportunities to Learn

Recommendation 2: Provide adequate and equitably distributed resources.
Recommendation 3: Establish a high-quality system of Pre-Kindergarten care and education that enables all students to enter school ready and able to learn.
Recommendation 4: Recruit, prepare, develop, and retain a high quality educational workforce.
Recommendation 5: Guarantee high quality learning conditions and opportunities for every student.
Recommendation 6: Provide flexible time and instruction that support learning and insure successful transitions between schooling levels.

A Fair and Useful Assessment System

Recommendation 7: Develop an integrated and coherent assessment system that monitors programs as well as student learning and guides the provision of additional learning support.

Systemic Accountability and Review

Recommendation 8: Establish a system of regularly reported indicators for accountability and improvement.
Recommendation 9: Ensure ongoing, inter-segmental coordination and review.

An Immediate Intervention to Increase Access

Recommendation 10: Increase access to the University of California for students in most educationally disadvantaged schools.


Appendix A: The Three Major Goals of A High Quality Learning System

Appendix B: Charge to the Student Learning Working Group

Appendix C: Professional Educators

Appendix D: Curriculum Materials

Appendix E: Learning Environments

Appendix F: California Department of Education

Appendix G: Candidate Indicators for an Adequate Accountability System

Appendix H: Families and Students Rights to Participate in Accountability

A Coherent and Integrated System of
High Quality and Equitable Education for California:

Challenging Goals, Guaranteed Opportunities to Learn,
Fair and Useful Assessment & Systemic Accountability


Report of the Student Learning Working Group
to the California Legislature’s Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education—Kindergarten through University

Jeannie Oakes, UCLA, and Sonia Hernandez, Los Angeles Alliance, Co-chairs

February 2002

California will develop and maintain a cohesive system of first-rate schools, colleges, and universities that prepares all students for transition to and success in the next level of education, the workforce, and general society, and that is responsive to the changing needs of the state and its people. (Resolution of the Joint Committee To Develop A Master Plan For Education—Kindergarten Through University, 2000)

In 1960, California took a bold step by developing a master plan wherein every qualified and interested California resident was guaranteed tuition-free access to higher education. In 2000, the Legislature set an even more ambitious goal: Extend the reach and promise of the master plan by bringing the State’s schools, colleges, and universities into a more cohesive, learner-focused system—from kindergarten, through all levels of the University experience, and beyond–that guarantees a quality education to all Californians.

A Master Plan that accomplishes this ambitious goal must make student learning the focal point of policy decisions about a host of complex issues, including standards, assessment, teacher education, college admissions policies, governance, funding streams and institutional turf issues, to name just a few. Only with a focus on learning can we create a system that enables all Californians to develop knowledge, understandings, skills and dispositions necessary to sustain a democratic society and a desired quality of life.

The sobering reality of California’s education system is that too few schools can provide the conditions whereby the state can reasonably and fairly ask students to learn to the highest standards. However, if Californians embrace the learning goals we set forth in Recommendation 1 as promises to be kept rather than demands to be enforced, the education system can emerge from a surreal world in which resources are substantially out of line with needs and requirements. The learning goals we outline here must guide new standards for educational resources, conditions, and opportunities. We must be vigilant that these goals are not adopted simply as obstacles that students must overcome.

The Student Learning Working Group (SLWG) offers ten sets of recommendations for how California’s new Master Plan should restructure the State’s schools and universities into a coherent, integrated K-university educational system that is equitable, well-resourced, and of the highest quality. These recommendations link to all of the elements of the education system that have been the focus of the six other Working Groups. The recommendations of the other groups, we believe, should be weighed in light of their contribution to achieving the goals we outline here.

In the more than 40 years since the first Master Plan, we have learned a great deal about the policies and practices our recommendations require. The task now is to develop the political will to act on what we know and to make the long-term investment that is required. This asks quite a lot of Californians. Yet, the imperative cannot be denied or misunderstood: California’s public schools must provide all children with the learning experiences they require to develop the knowledge and problem solving abilities that are essential for productive and meaningful lives, work, and participation in democratic society.

First Principles: California’s PreK-University Master Plan must result in education policies that ensure quality and choice for all students, and enable equitable results.

We recommend that the legislature set standards and ensure the resources, conditions and opportunities so that all PreK-12 students participate in a rich and comprehensive program of instruction and receive the learning supports that enable them to attain four fundamental learning goals: 1) oral proficiency and full literacy in two languages; 2) high level competency in mathematics; 3) deep knowledge in other academic areas; and 4) preparation for successful entry into four-year university, community college transfer programs, or community college vocational certificate programs, without the need for remedial or developmental courses.

We also recommend that the legislature accommodate the growing demand for a 4-year university education; guarantee equitable access to post-secondary education; ensure equitable patterns of post-secondary degree and certificate attainment; and increase the transfer rate of well-prepared community college students to CSU and UC. This emphasis on college readiness for all students, however, should not diminish state support for high quality career and technical programs at the community colleges that lead to occupational certificates, occupational associate degrees, and courses that prepare students to enter the job market with the competencies they will need to succeed. Additionally, the legislature must preserve an open educational system that allows Californians to enter and exit depending on need and provides multiple sources of learning and support for students at every level of education.

For specifics, see pages 4-7

Challenging Goals and Curriculum

Recommendation 1: Set ambitious learning goals and provide all students a challenging K-12 and postsecondary curriculum.

The State must ensure that all students have access to a K-12 curriculum comprised of the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for college going (without the need for remediation), productive work, and active citizenship. As a part of this curriculum, all schools must offer academic programs and coursework that provide students a reasonable opportunity to seek admission to and succeed in any of California’s public postsecondary institutions. Specifically, this means that all students must have the opportunity to take mathematics courses that include beginning algebra by 8th grade, a college readiness curriculum (currently the A-G course pattern) becomes the standard high school curriculum for all students, and this curriculum becomes the recommended preparation for community college, as well as four-year universities. The mandate for A-G should be accompanied by supports for high schools and public postsecondary schools who work together to develop a broad array of courses that meet the A-G requirements.
For specific recommendations, see pages 8-12

Guaranteed Opportunities to Learn

Recommendation 2: Provide adequate and equitably distributed learning resources.

Here, we defer for specific to the recommendations of the Finance and Facilities Working Group. However, we note with alarm the current patterns of funding that underlie in large part the current crisis of overcrowded and deteriorating facilities and the shortage of qualified teachers. Clearly, the state must increase its commitment, as well as overhaul the methods by which it generates and allocates resources for schooling. Whatever funding and facilities schemes are adopted, the State must provide the differential resources communities and students require in order to ensure high-quality education for all Californians, and to remedy the current shortages and conditions in facilities in the States’ neediest communities.

Recommendation 3: Recruit, prepare, develop, and retain a high quality educational workforce.

We defer to the Professional Development Working Group for the specifics of professional preparation matched to the content, pedagogy, and organizational demands of a coherent and integrated K-university system with the features described in 1-8. However, we also emphasize that our recommendations for challenging goals and curriculum can only be effective if they include or are accompanied by a guarantee that all students K-16 have ready access to teachers, administrators, and counselors who have high expectations for all students, as well as subject matter knowledge, understanding of student learning, and knowledge of the requirements their students will encounter at the next level of schooling. These school professionals, themselves, need time and learning opportunities that enable them to provide these supports to students. Achieving the learning goals that are at the heart of this report will also require that the legislature fund the preparation and ongoing professional development of K-12 teachers in second languages.

Recommendation 4: Establish a high-quality system of pre-kindergarten care and education that enables all students to enter school ready and able to learn.

Here, the SLWG defers to the recommendations of the School Readiness Working Group. Whatever approach is taken to school readiness, the state must provide the differential resources and opportunities to communities and students to ensure equitable readiness for high-quality K-university schooling. Children must receive the rich pre-school experiences that have a profound influence on their later learning. Delivering these experiences opens crucial opportunities for public institutions to forge respectful and empowering partnerships with families from all segments of California. Moreover, in linguistically diverse California, school readiness must include promoting the development and maintenance of children’s home languages in ways that both supplement and enhance learning English.

Recommendation 5: Guarantee high quality learning conditions and opportunities for every student, PreK-University.

The State must provide all students with the resources, instruction, and support necessary for achieving the competencies that standards and college admissions requirements demand. At a minimum, the State must enable local schools to provide every K-12 student with all of the following:

  • A clear statement of the academic standards that both define what students are expected to know and do and what the system in turn will do for them at every level;
  • Teachers who are credentialed in the subjects they teach; credentialed administrators; counselors and other staff who combine subject matter knowledge, high expectations and knowledge of requirements and expectations for success for their students;
  • Accurate information about successful preparation for college eligibility and post-secondary options;
  • A course of study that provides equitable access to a curriculum that integrates rigorous academic content with robust, viable career pathways;
  • Appropriate, high quality learning materials and resources, including textbooks and technologies that engage students with the knowledge they are expected to learn;
  • Suitable learning environments, including classrooms, facilities, and buildings;
  • Fair and authentic diagnostic assessment at each grade level.

The legislature must provide necessary resources to enable low income, ELL, immigrant, and disabled students to participate fully in K-12 and post-secondary schooling, even if those exceed the resources provided to other students or other schools. Finally, as with
K-12 schooling, community colleges and universities must insure that conditions are in place for all students to succeed.

For specific recommendations, see pages 14-16

Recommendation 6: Provide flexible time and instruction that support learning and ensure successful transitions between schooling levels.

Resources currently devoted to compensatory, remedial, and retention strategies should be shifted into flexible systems of time and learning support. The need that many students have for differential attention is normal, and a healthy education system addresses these needs routinely. However, this flexibility must not delay students’ achievement or interfere with timely or successful transitions to the next schooling level. Intensive academic support, accompanied by additional resource investment will be needed to provide all students with the learning opportunities they require to master the curriculum at grade and/or age levels comparable to those of most of their peers. Most importantly, supplemental programs, K-university, must focus on having all students “keep up” rather than having to “catch up.”

Learning support must include information and counseling regarding college requirements and student financial aid to all teachers, students and families, and provide families college-going “accountability” reports that document their student’s progress toward college and careers. It also must include transparent and sustainable articulation and transfer processes that provide students with clear curriculum guidance about the transition between high schools and college and between two- and four-year colleges and universities, as well as support for “dual admissions” programs that support the transfer of community college students to CSU and UC. Finally, it includes responsibility and provides resources at the post-secondary level to assist increasing numbers of college students to keep up with their academic coursework and attain certificates and degrees.

For specific recommendations, see pages 16-23

Fair and Useful Assessment

Recommendation 7: Develop an integrated and coherent assessment system that monitors programs as well as student learning and that guides the provision of additional learning support.

The State must develop an integrated, coherent system of assessment that serves multiple purposes, avoids unnecessary cost and duplication, and supports the learning goals we want for students. This goal can best be realized in a system with several parts: (1) a state system of program assessment; (2) local systems for individual student assessment; and (3) a shared system of state and local assessment for graduation based on exhibitions of performance. The state's major role in assessment should be to assess programs and to monitor and report aggregate student performance. The state should charge local districts with developing their own assessment systems for providing information about and guiding instruction for individual students. The state should establish an Assessment Quality Assurance Panel to evaluate both state and local assessment systems (both the assessments used and the manner in which they are used). Graduation standards and performance-based methods by which students demonstrate their competencies should be developed by the state, in consultation with experts from higher education and local school districts, as appointed by their respective academic senates, and with the participation of California’s diverse communities.

Reports of student performance should describe how many students actually perform particular kinds of tasks, rather than merely assigning a numerical score that has no substantive or accurate meaning to students, parents, teachers, or the public. They should also describe the programmatic context in which student outcomes are achieved.

An adequate assessment system requires a non-voluntary, longitudinal student data system that enables the State and schools to assess the contribution of the current year of schooling to students’ growth, as well as identify and examine the factors that promote access to high quality resources, opportunity to learn to high standards, and significantly increased achievement for all students at key transition points in the system.

For specific recommendations, see pages 24-29

Systemic Accountability and Review

Recommendation 8: Establish a system of regularly reported indicators for accountability and improvement.

The Student Learning Working Group calls for the construction and implementation of a vision of shared and systemic accountability—a two-way, mutual, and blameless vision of accountability that links learning outcomes to the conditions under which teachers teach and students learning. Shared, systemic accountability includes those things that the State and school districts do to provide high quality learning for all students as well as to evaluate school offerings and student performance. It focuses on the provision of high quality education to all students, and makes clear that the responsibility for learning must be shared by families, community organizations, businesses, and other Californians along with state agencies, school boards, administrators, teachers, and students.

This approach to accountability requires that the State develop, legislate and fund a comprehensive system of preK-16 educational indicators. These indicators must be constructed and reported in ways that reveal the character and distribution of learning conditions and outcomes for various groups of California students across and within school and systems. It requires that the K-12 Academic Performance Index (API) be expanded so that it includes indicators such as dropout rates, grade promotion, and other indicators of outcomes, in addition to multiple measures of student achievement.
It also requires that the State create and report a K-12 “Opportunities for Teaching and Learning Index” (OTL) that parallels the API, and that, like the API, permits statewide school comparisons. Finally, it requires system indicators that ensure accountability at all levels of the system.

The legislature should develop a long-term strategic plan for the meaningful use of accountability data and indicators by state and local policymakers, educators, and all Californians to determine the impact of programs and interventions designed to improve learning conditions and outcomes and for remedying inadequacies.

The State must provide incentives for K-12 schools to create high quality programs and to open their doors to the students who are in the greatest educational need. Rewards for such schools should be directed at supporting the spread of these educational innovations to as many other schools as possible. Strategies for intervening in K-12 schools that are not serving all students well should support schools’ efforts to build their organizational capacity, develop high-quality programs and support student learning.

Finally, we recommend that the legislature bring post-secondary education into an integrated accountability system by requiring public post-secondary institutions to develop a commonly used longitudinal data base that enables them to report a set of accountability indicators that monitor quality and equity in access and attainment. We also recommend that public post-secondary institutions engage in a process of examining and making recommendations about whether and how the state’s educational system could benefit from a series of indicators of post-secondary students’ learning, and explore the technology and the cultural and political implications of such a system.
For specific recommendations, see pages 30-36

Recommendation 9: Ensure ongoing, inter-segmental coordination and review

The Governance Working Group has been given the responsibility for recommending the specifics of how a coherent and integrated K-16 educational system should be governed. However, we argue strongly that whatever governance strategy is adopted, inter-segmental collaboration between educational professionals at various levels--Pre K-12 through University – is essential, particularly with respect to issues of alignment and coordination in the areas of curricula, standards, assessment, admissions, and placement.. Specifically, we recommend a body comprised of both K-12 and university faculty senate representatives be convened to address issues of alignment and coordination in the areas of curricula, assessment, admissions, and placement.

For specific recommendations, see pages 37-38

An Immediate Intervention to Increase Access

Recommendation 10: Increase access to the University of California for students in most educationally disadvantaged schools.

We add to the recommendations above a significant, but short-term intervention that will demonstrate the state’s commitment to educate all Californians well and open long-shut doors of opportunity to under-served students. Specifically, the University of California should use to the fullest extent the Master Plan’s and University’s Admissions by Exception policy (that allows for 6% of admitted students to be selected from those not meeting the basic eligibility criteria of the University) to admit ineligible students from educationally disadvantaged schools who display academic promise, extraordinary talent, and leadership potential. To accompany this use of Admissions by Exception, the University must ensure that its on-campus academic support programs are sufficient to enable these students to succeed.

We believe that this recommendation can and should be implemented immediately in order to engage the University of California directly in addressing the problems of the widespread under-preparation of California’s K-12 students. This intervention falls well within the UC mission. Clearly, no public problem is more salient and challenging than increasing educational quality and opportunity in our diverse state.

Table of Contents
Summary Introduction Goals/Curriculum Opportunities
Assessment Accountability Access Members