LA Unified board to consider request to delay computer tests

iPad program report

In its first meeting of 2015, the LA Unified school board tomorrow will debate a range of issues, from students’ eating alone to farm workers’ pay. But it’s the issue of state testing that will have the most immediate and significant impact on more than 300,000 district students.

Adding a powerful voice to the growing opposition against using the Smarter Balanced computer test this spring as means of measuring academic growth, board Members Monica Ratliff and Tamar Galatzan have co-sponsored a resolution that asks the state to delay use of the test results for any official purposes.

“It would be patently unfair to use the Spring 2015 SBAC assessment results for high stakes accountability purposes with respect to the students, teachers and schools of the District and any other school districts in a similar situation,” they say in their resolution, which will be voted on during the afternoon session.

Rarely do Galatzan and Ratliff work together on an issue. If passed, their measure would put the state’s largest school district in opposition to the tests.

The primary objection is not that students are ill-prepared in the subject matter — the new Common Core standards — but rather, they have not had the sufficient time to become familiar with the testing devices on which the computerized exam will be administered.

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LAUSD board, unions vow support on Obama’s immigration action

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks at Gratts Elementary

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks at Gratts Elementary (Credit: UTLA Facebook page)

The LA Unified school board and union leaders moved today to help ensure that district schools are “safe havens” in support of President Obama‘s recent executive orders on immigration.

The orders, announced last month, potentially give deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants and their children.

A resolution introduced by board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia pledges that the district will develop a plan to assist any students needing help with immigration records or applications.

The district today also announced plans to send a letter home with students advising their their parents and guardians “to be cautious of ‘so-called ‘notaries’ and dishonest lawyers (who) prey on the hopes of individuals and families seeking a better life,” according to a district press release.

The letter was signed by representatives of LAUSD, SEIU Local 99 and UTLA. Before the board meeting, Garcia and Zimmer held a press conference with leaders of the two unions, according to the release.

“The President’s Executive Action will bring great relief to students and their families,” said SEIU Local 99 Lilia Garcia, according to the press release. “I work with our school community every day and I see how much it impacts students when their mother or father is deported. The children come to school with fear or sadness. The President’s action will mean more stability for families, and this will mean students can focus on their education. I am proud that our union will be working with the District to ensure that parents can access information and resources in our schools.”

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl also pledged the union’s support in the release, saying, “As educators, we care about the whole child— not only their academic achievements, but also the social and economic wellbeing of our students. We support the School Board’s resolution on immigration reform and accountability. Students and their parents need our help and we are ready to do all we can inside and outside of the classroom.”

LA Unified officials praise Obama’s immigration order

President ObamaIn a rare sign of unanimity, LA Unified officials and school board member are praising President Obama‘s immigration speech last night.

The order relieves the threat of deportation for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents. It also expands eligibility for those who were brought to the country as children under the existing “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

“I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers… I’ve seen the courage of students who – except for the circumstances of their birth – are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” Obama said in his speech.

Here is how some LA Unified officials responded to the President’s announcement.

While LAUSD embraces all students and families, regardless of citizenship, on their quest for the American dream – for many, the reality one step outside of the school gates still remains a nightmare,” board member Monica Garcia said in an issued statement. “Deportation and family separation is one of the greatest fears for families in my district and across Los Angeles.”

She added, “I applaud President Obama’s executive action to address this immigration crisis – including the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the opportunity for work permits, and reducing the likelihood for family separations. While this executive action was signed by the President’s pen, it is a victory for a broad coalition of immigrant rights, labor, and student activists, like our DREAMers, across the nation and here in Los Angeles – the epicenter of the immigrant rights movement.”

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Garcia 2nd board member to endorse — Johnson is her guy

Monica Garcia LAUSD School BoardMonica Garcia, who represents LA Unified’s District 2, has become the second district board member to endorse one of the candidates running for the District 1 seat, last held by the late Marguerite LaMotte.

Garcia is the “special guest” at fundraiser tonight in Hancock Park for Alex Johnson, the Mark Ridley-Thomas aide who is opposing George McKenna in the Aug. 12 runoff.

Garcia’s appearance comes a few days after Monica Ratliff, the District 6 representative, threw her support behind McKenna.

Apart from the possibility each of the Monicas faces, the prospect of working alongside a new member she didn’t endorse, the expressions of support are entirely predictable.

Garcia is a well-known proponent of charter schools and overall school reform — her website carries the headline “Reform The L.A. Way,” and much of Johnson’s support has come from a political action committee affiliated with the California Charter Schools Association.

Ratliff, a former teacher, is more closely aligned with traditional schools and United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union whose PAC is supporting McKenna.

The fundraiser is being hosted by Ben Paul, chief executive of the nationwide program After-School All-Stars, which provides activities for students beyond the daily final bell.

Previous Posts: McKenna is the union candidate, but CTA gave to Johnson backers; Ratliff forgoes neutrality, endorsing McKenna in board race; Johnson outpacing McKenna in school board race for money

Vergara ruling gets mixed reaction from school board

LAUSD School board members Vergara ruling reactionsPredictably, the historic superior court decision yesterday in the Vergara case elicited mixed reactions from members of the LA Unified school board.

The ruling, which found California laws dictating teacher tenure, seniority rights and dismissal practices unconstitutional, is seen as huge blow to teacher unions and a boost to education reformers. Here is what a handful of board members had to say:

Monica Garcia, LAUSD Board Member, District 2

“California is a state in transformation! Today, California must act to support our students’ civil rights as directed by Judge Rolf Treu in Vergara v. California. By striking down all five laws, California must focus corrective action that will ensure students are served adequately, and teachers are treated fairly. I applaud the nine student plaintiffs, and the Students Matter team for creating this opportunity to radically change our educational system.”

“On behalf of those I represent, I call on all parties to come together, propose new laws and lead the nation in creating conditions that best serve our youth.”

Tamar Galatzan, LAUSD Board Member, District 3

“The Vergara ruling is the first step toward being able to guarantee that we have great teachers in every LAUSD classroom and classrooms around the state. It is now up to the Legislature to pass laws that provide equal opportunity and provide equal access to a high-quality education.”

Steve Zimmer, LAUSD Board Member, District 4

“Basically yesterday you had a completely antithetical moment. You had the verdict read at the courthouse that identifies teacher tenure and other protection statutes as the reasons why kids have suffered disproportionately in public education. And then, not half a day later, you actually had the incoming president of the teachers union standing with a civil rights leader saying, No no no there are many factors that impact children and their access to education, and these factors are so strong that we believe that you have to take them into consideration when we are distributing funding.”

“As I’ve always said, there are parts of the statute that I would change. The problem with Vergara has always been that in saying one part of the problem is the problem, is a reckless theory. And now I worry that it could be a very reckless implementation.”

Bennett Kayser, LAUSD Board Member, District 5

“On behalf of my former colleagues, public school teachers, I am deeply saddened that our profession has been so attacked in the in the courts. It is shameful when billionaires use children to mask their efforts to eliminate employees’ hard-won rights. I do believe however that, we shall prevail on the Vergara appeal.”

Richard Vladovic, the board president, and Monica Ratliff, did not respond to requests for reaction to the Vergara case.

Previous posts: Vergara decision: Big win for students, big loss for teachers union; Analysis: The long wait for the impact — if any — of Vergara; Vergara trial ends, with CA teacher laws hanging in the balance


Another week, another LA Unified school board meeting

LAUSD School Board Meeting 5-20-14It’s hard to believe after last week’s marathon 10-hour session, but LA Unified school board members will be meet again tomorrow with a full agenda.

Most of the issues before the board are much less contentious than those addressed a week ago. They include:

  • Board member Bennett Kayser’s effort to form a task force charged with replacing the district’s potentially asthma-triggering cleaning supplies will come up for a vote.  It is the only resolution for action on the agenda.
  • A plan for a different task force will be introduced by Monica Garcia. This time one that, if passed, would develop a district-wide plan within three months for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Education to be implemented in the Fall of 2015.
  • And Steve Zimmer has drafted a motion for phasing in the data resulting from the administration of the Smarter Balanced tests now that LA Unified “will sunset the use of API scores as a measurement and evaluation tool for schools communities and all other assessment purposes.”

In a closed session meeting the six members will address the usual: existing litigation, personnel dismissals, and student discipline cases. They will also meet with representatives of various labor groups who are entering into negotiations with the district on new collective bargaining contracts. Among them are the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), Los Angeles School Police Association (LASPOA), Service Employees International Union Local 99 (SEIU), and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).

After the meeting, the same board members will reconvene in the afternoon. for a special joint meeting of Committee of the Whole and the Adult Education Committee of the Los Angeles Community College District.

Much of the discussion will focus on Assembly Bill 86, an effort to coordinate public schools and community colleges to serve the needs of adult education students.

For board agenda, click here.

For board materials, click here.

JUST IN: Plan to use ‘Need Index’ to go before LAUSD board

Highest Need Map*UPDATED
In a surprise move, LA Unified school board will consider a resolution that supports the use of an alternative formula, known as the “Student Need Index,” in deciding how to distribute school funds throughout the district.

LA School Report has learned that Monica Garcia and Board President Richard Vladovic have agreed to co-sponsor a resolution to put before the board at its next meeting, on May 13. Their agreement came a day after his office met with student activists who had collected more than 4,300 petition signatures. (Read story here).

Many of the highest-needs schools centered primarily in south and east Los Angeles are in Vladovic’s own district, which stretches from downtown to Long Beach. A large number are also in Garcia’s district.

Chris Torres, Vladovic’s chief of staff, said Garcia agreed to sponsor the resolution, and Vladovic then signed on as a co-sponsor.

Developed by the Advancement Project along with two community groups, the Community Coalition and InnerCityStruggles, the index establishes a new method of rating schools by need, based on a variety of factors including neighborhood conditions that can affect the lives of students, like gun injuries, access to childcare and asthma rates.

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LAUSD board approves a student voice, but not how to get it

Steve Zimmer LAUSD Board Meeting 4-8-2014

Steve Zimmer LAUSD Board Meeting 4-8-2014

A grand plan by Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser to put a student voice on the LA Unified School Board hit a road block today when the board accepted the idea in principle but delayed adopting a plan for how to do it.

In a 50-minute debate, board member Tamar Galatzan was the first to lead the charge against their Student Engagement and Empowerment resolution, which would have required Superintendent John Deasy to develop a plan that included a seven member student advisory board and a district-wide student Congress.

But the effort went down in a 4-2 vote over objections to doing anything more than acknowledging the certainty of creating a student advisory position for the board something during the 2014-2015 academic year.

“I don’t know why we need to create this giant bureaucracy of student advice when the education code is much simpler,” said Galatzan, who voted with Monica Garcia, Monica Ratliff and Board President RIchard Vladovic to defeat the resolution.

Garcia quickly proposed an alternative approach: Accept the petition presented to the board — 1,500 student signatures calling for the addition of a student representative, as required by the California education code — and authorize Deasy to recommend within 120 days the best way to accomplish the effort.

That was passed, 5-1, with Zimmer as the holdout.

After the board meeting, Zimmer told LA School Report, he was disappointed in his colleagues who chose to meet only the minimum standards required by the state.

“I hope that the students who participated in the process don’t feel deflated by democracy,” he said. And he encouraged them to view it as a partial victory.

“The good news,” he said, “is that there will be a student here and that’s going to make this a better board of education.”

Parents, community groups rally for a say in LA Unified budget

CLASS rally at LA Unified

CLASS rally at LA Unified

The battle to influence the Los Angeles Unified School board on how to spend Governor Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula budget boost and statewide tax revenues for education continues to rage on.

Parents, educators and community organizers rallied outside of LA Unified headquarters today before a special school board meeting primarily focussed on budget issues.

Inside, members of Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) presented the six-member board with a petition containing more than 5,000 signatures by families and teachers across L.A.  “demanding that $1 billion in extra state funding over the next seven years goes to help low-income students, English learners and foster youth.”

The petition was bound by rubber bands, about seven inches thick, and made a loud thunk as speakers dramatically dropped sections of it on the speaker’s podium.

A graduate of Manual Arts High School who said he’d had “a  lot of emotional problems” when he was a student there, suggested the district hire several restorative justice counselors.

Several parents called for the district to close teacher jails and open school libraries  instead.

Caroline Horton, an eduction aide at Crenshaw High School, said the district “is being wasteful twice” when it puts teachers in “teacher jail.”

“You’re paying them to do nothing and then you’re paying a substitute to do their job, too,” she said.

School board member Monica Ratliff tried to manage the protesters’ expectations.

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Glimpses of LA Unified meeting: iPads and kumbaya*

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy

Debate at times was intense as ever yesterday.

Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer still didn’t seem to agree on much, the board ignored a recommendation from the Bond Oversight Committee and nobody thought Monica Garcia had a great idea in giving the entire board responsibility for taking District 1 interests into consideration with their votes.

But a change in attitude toward John Deasy was clearly evident. For these few hours, anyway, he appeared as everybody’s friend and confidante. And this is a superintendent, after all, who had grown so frustrated with board dysfunction a few months ago that he threatened to step down.

During a sometimes heated discussion over how many iPads to buy for the next round of distribution, Board President Richard Vladovic came close to cutting off any further discord by saying, “Let’s let the superintendent make the call and move on. I’m going to vote against anything that doesn’t allow him to do what’s best.”

How far have these two come? It was just about a year ago that Deasy was saying he’d resign if Vladovic became board president, and Vladovic let it be known he was not Deasy’s biggest fan.

This was as close to kumbaya as it gets.

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A silent night for two LA Unified board members

Monica Garcia, at a more talkative time

Monica Garcia, at a more talkative time

For all the passion and discord over how to fill a vacant seat, two of the six LA Unified board members were silent during the board’s hour-long debate last night. Neither the current president, Richard Vladovic, nor his predecessor, Monica Garcia, weighed in, apart from their votes.

Before a 4-2 decision to hold a June 3 special election — with Vladovic and Garcia in the majority — Vladovic spoke only in keeping the trains moving — welcoming speakers, chastising hecklers, asking the audience to keep things civil. He had almost nothing to say about the issues at hand.

Mike Trujillo, his spokesman, said he was committed to facilitating a healthy discussion.

“Dr. Vladovic’s core belief is that democracy was the right thing to pursue and he really didn’t feel as though taking up more time when it was clear every argument from A to Z was laid out,” Trujillo said. “When you take into account those who advocated for an election, all of those arguments that were used encapsulated what Dr. Vladovic was feeling when he made his vote.”

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Delay on iPads shows deep division on LA Unified board

TamarDec_17It’s the other delay yesterday that portends long-term consequences for LA Unified students.

In the latest sign of the deep divide on the district school board, the members voted to hold off the next phase of the iPad program, rather than approve a carefully crafted compromise that the board had hammered out, and passed, at the last meeting.

An agenda item yesterday to approve distribution of iPads to 38 schools and laptops to seven high schools was pushed off to the board’s next scheduled meeting, Jan. 14.

Then, later in the meeting, a resolution from Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia to act upon the November action – in other words, to bypass the item postponed – was defeated.

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LA Unified board delays action on LaMotte vacancy to January

LA Unified Board Meeting

The LA Unified school board today postponed until next month any consideration of how to fill the board seat left vacant by the death of Marguerite LaMotte, bowing to a wave of pleas from speakers asking the board to wait until after her funeral.

A 3-3 vote on a motion to allow discussion to begin effectively killed the effort. A six-member board requires four votes for any measure to pass.

President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted in favor of consideration; Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff voted to wait. The board then voted unanimously to schedule a special meeting Jan. 7, when a debate will begin over whether to fill the seat through a special election or a board appointment.

The funeral for LaMotte, who died Dec. 5, is scheduled for Saturday.

The board’s first vote was preceded by a parade of speakers, a majority of whom urged the members to defer action out of respect for LaMotte’s family and legacy.

Typical of the passion was that from Patricia Sanders, vice president of the New Frontier Democratic Club, who argued that it was “time to memorialize and funeralize” LaMotte, who, she said, “would be pissed off to the highest point of pissivisity,” were the board to act so quickly after the death of another member.

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BREAKING NEWS: Board postpones vote on LaMotte seat

20131217-SteveZimmer3The LA Unified school board voted today to delay a decision on how to fill the board seat held by the late Marguerite LaMotte until Jan.7 to allow her family to hold a funeral service and interment.

A 3-3 vote to consider the options effectively killed the motion to take up the matter four votes were required for passage. President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted to waive a rule that would have opened the door to immediate consideration, while Bennett Kayser, Monica Ratliff and Steve Zimmer voted against the waiver.

The board then voted unanimously to take up the issue at a special meeting on Jan. 7.


A full plate for the LA Unified board — LaMotte seat, fixes, iPads

generic board meetingThe LA Unified school board is back together tomorrow, with a long agenda highlighted by several high-stakes and, very likely, contentious issues.

Foremost is the discussion and probable vote on how to fill the vacant District 1 seat. Marguerite LaMotte’s death on Dec. 4 has left the board with the options of filling the seat by board appointment or working with the city to hold a special election.

There are rational arguments for and against either choice, but with six people deciding, the prevailing side needs four votes. A 3-3 deadlock would require the board to keep voting until someone is persuaded to break.

Efforts by LA School Report last week to learn where members stand found that they appeared to be split, with President Richard Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia favoring a special election and Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff favoring an appointment. Steve Zimmer was said to favor an appointment, but he told the LA Times he’s undecided.

A chorus of voices that includes state and federal elected officials have expressed support for an election. Rep. Maxine Waters, whose Congressional district overlaps the LaMotte district, campaigned for an election at the First AME Church of Los Angeles last night. LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is urging people to show up at district headquarters tomorrow to rally for an election.

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Charter Schools Association Pushing Election for LaMotte Seat

MapBoardDistrict1The California Charter Schools Association, or CCSA, has become the latest group pushing LA Unified leadership to hold an election to fill the seat left open by the sudden death of board member Marguerite LaMotte. As the school board continues to weigh the options of appointing a replacement or staging a special election — stakeholders around the city are making their positions clear.

School board District 1, which LaMotte had represented since 2003, includes parts of south LA, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills. It stretches as far west as Palms, north to Hancock Park, and south to Gardena. As of this year, there are about 40 charter schools operating in the district, serving more than 12,000 students. Only District 2, represented by Monica Garcia, has more charter schools.

CCSA Spokeswoman Sierra Jenkins says the CCSA plans to circulate a petition next week, among parents of charter school students “to encourage the board to hold a special election.”

A former teacher and principal, LaMotte was a strong ally for teachers and other district employees, which won her lasting support from UTLA, the teachers union, as well as SEIU, a public employees union. For most of her tenure on the board, she staunchly opposed charter schools, though she did soften her views in recent years.

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On LA Unified Board, What’s Old is New Again — More Committees

CommittesIt’s that time of year again, and naturally, thoughts turn to LA Unified school board committees.

Well, probably not, but it is worth noting that what’s old is new again, as the deliberative process has returned, echoes of a bygone, pre-Monica Garcia as president time.

Back then, in the middle of the last decade, as many as 10 committees met often, some of them monthly and some of them even more. Who could forget the Committee on the Modified Chanda Smith Consent Decree Committee, which convened during the committee high-mark years of 2005 and 2006, when Board President Marlene Canter had 10 and 9 committees at hand.

When Garcia became president in 2006, the committee system waned, only for a rebirth under Richard Vladovic, who succeeded Garcia as president this year. After Garcia cancelled committees, Vladovic created them. Now there are 7, the most since 2007.

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LAUSD Losing Fewer Teachers For Second Straight Year

Board Member Steve Zimmer

Board Member Steve Zimmer

For the second year in a row, LA Unified is losing fewer teachers, and district projections indicate that the trend will continue through the current school year.

Vivian Ekchian, the district’s Chief Human Resources Officer, told a committee meeting yesterday that the trend is largely due to more diligent work at the front end of the hiring process. She said the district has revamped the interview system to include a lesson observation and an essay, and the district now requires that applicants have a degree in the subject matter they plan to teach.

Teachers leave their jobs for a variety of reasons, including retirement, dismissal and jobs in other districts.

Ekchian was one of several speakers at a meeting of the Committee of the Whole that was devoted to new strategies for training, hiring and retaining better teachers and including among new recruits teachers whose diversity more closely aligns with the diversity of district students.

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Kayser Abstention Dooms Effort to Spread Out Title 1 Money*

Title 1LA Unified School board member Tamar Galatzan had hoped to sway her colleagues to change the way the district distributes Title 1 funds for low-income students. But her motion, co-sponsored by Monica Ratliff, failed to get majority support at yesterday’s board meeting.

The vote was split, 3-3, with Galatzan, Ratliff and Steve Zimmer, all of whom represent districts with mixed income levels, supporting the measure. Monica Garcia, Richard Vladovic, and Marguerite LaMotte, whose schools are located in high poverty communities, voting against.

Bennett Kayser assured defeat when he abstained.

“This is a really tough one,” he said, explaining that his district would suffer no matter which side he took.

Kayser represents schools from Eagle Rock, where the median household income is above $67,000, to Bell where it’s about $37,000.

After federal dollars were reduced by 9 percent in 2011, the district raised the threshold for eligibility for Title 1 funds to schools where 50 percent of students were from low-income families, with schools with 65 to 100 percent low income students getting additional money.

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LA Unified Board Votes to Reshape iPad Program

iPads -- for now.

iPads — for now.

The LA Unified school board re-calibrated its push for technology in the classroom last night, voting to continue into a second phase of its iPad plan but also to launch a pilot test of laptops among high school students. Further technology plans will depend on the outcome of a study.

The decision — approved by a 6-1 vote with Tamar Galatzan as the dissenter — culminated a long and impassioned debate about how fast to get computer devices in the hands of students who really need it. The 2 1/2 hour discussion, which ended an 8-hour board meeting, reflected sharp divisions between members who think it’s better to move swiftly, with iPads, and members who argue that different students require different devices. Members also expressed discomfort with the district’s deal with Apple and called for a reexamination of terms for future purchases.

The final resolution, adopted at 9 p.m., represented a merger of a plan offered by board member Monica Ratliff, which called for a more thorough evaluation of the iPad program and a delayed rollout of devices, and the scaled down Phase 2 rollout that Superintendent John Deasy submitted to the board several weeks ago.

Over the next several months, the district will distribute about 40,000 tablets across 35 elementary and middle school campuses. Another 30,000 will go to the district’s teachers, principals and administrators. And the administration’s procurement team will purchase keyboards for all elementary and middle school students so they can take the Smarter Balanced assessments in the spring.

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