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Brown urged to restore funds for education databases

Governor plans to cut $3.5 million for databases that track students' test scores and teachers' performance.

June 07, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • In March, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted 13 bills that aimed to cut $11.2 billion from California's budget deficit.
In March, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted 13 bills that aimed to cut $11.2 billion… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

Educators and a state legislator are calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to restore funding to two computer databases that track the performance of students and teachers and could provide insight into the effectiveness of key academic programs.

In his latest proposed budget, Brown called for cutting nearly $3.5 million in funding for the two programs, which have long been in development. The student database, known as CalPADS, went online almost two years ago and was about to start producing statistics on the number of students who dropped out over the last four years. The teacher database, known as CalTIDES, had been scheduled to go online this year but has been delayed.

"My impression is they're not cutting in the second or third inning, they're cutting in the ninth inning" when the state was on the verge of receiving useful and important data, said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit.

Brown proposed using the money, plus an additional $5 million that had been saved by a previous veto of one of the programs, for other testing areas.

In 2002, state legislators approved spending $6 million to fund CalPADS, which tracks students' performance on standardized tests over time; its implementation was delayed because of infighting among state agencies. And in 2009, legislators also voted to allow school districts to include student test score data in teachers' evaluations, a move that allowed the state to be eligible for a competitive federal grant. California did not ultimately win that money.

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also vetoed some funding for CalPADS last year, saying that it was ineffective.

The databases would have allowed policymakers to determine whether some key programs are effective, according to legislators. For example, educators could determine whether students enrolled in classes designed to help them learn English were making progress because their test scores could be compared to their previous performance.

"Absent this information, we're left with a series of frustrations," said state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who originally introduced legislation to create some of the databases. "This is really about spending tens of billions of dollars with good results."

California spends about $60 billion a year on K-12 education.

Not funding the databases could lead to a cut in federal dollars, Simitian and others said. The Obama administration had made reporting graduation rates a key component in receiving a type of federal funding.

A spokesman at the U.S. Department of Education declined to comment.

Brown has said he believes individual school districts can keep track of their own data. Brown and his staff are reviewing budget proposals, but the governor's proposed budget said that testing requirements were "cumbersome" and required instructors to "teach to the test."

"We want to make sure" test data is "actually useful," said Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford.

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