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V. Accountability

Monitoring state performance through Results Driven Accountability.





  1. Early Learning
  2. Evidence-Based School and Classroom Practices
  3. Educator Preparation and Professional Learning
  4. Assessment
  5. Accountability (current page)
  6. Family and Student Engagement
  7. Special Education Financing





Historically, the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has placed a high priority on state agencies complying with federal programs and policies. Over the past seven years, OSEP has seen substantial improvements in states’ compliance with IDEA requirements. Compliance, however, does not guarantee improved educational outcomes for students. That is why, in June 2014, OSEP began using a process it calls Results Driven Accountability (RDA) to monitor the performance of states’ special education programs. RDA focuses on equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

Shortly after the introduction of its RDA initiative, OSEP notified California that it was one of only three states and jurisdictions with “needs intervention” status and indicated that it would be providing the state with differentiated monitoring and support to help guide improvement efforts. This determined status is not the only reason to believe that substantial work needs to be done to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. Data from several places in this report indicate poor school results for students with disabilities, and not just in comparison to students in the state without disabilities. In fact, a 2014 federal ranking listed California “in the bottom rung of states in the academic achievement of disabled students,”60 even though only a small percentage of these students have cognitive disabilities.


OSEP’s switch to RDA gives a clear signal of the direction for future federal policy that affects students with disabilities. With compliance no longer singularly at the forefront, monitoring for program effectiveness and student outcomes takes center stage and invites California to create an outcomes-based accountability system for students with disabilities, a system that will monitor the degree to which students with disabilities are attaining the knowledge and skills they need for success in college and careers, independent living, and adult life.

RDA creates an opportunity to review state-level organizational structures, policies and procedures, and goals to ensure that they maximize student achievement and are aligned with the federal expectations for both compliance and performance. This system of accountability provides an impetus for ensuring that our school system provides the broad course of study that students will need—including Career Technical Education, Linked Learning, and Advanced Placement courses— for success in postsecondary education, career, and life.

These efforts, in their best iterations, would respond to and, as appropriate, incorporate the new requirements of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and its evaluation rubric, which is currently under development. Ideally, these efforts would continue to provide a focus on, and specify outcomes for, students with disabilities along with the other students currently specified in LCFF law.


Data Systems

California currently stores its information about students receiving special education services in multiple databases and/or management information systems at both local and state levels. Since the late 1980s, the Special Education Division at the California Department of Education (CDE) has supported the use of a database called the California Special Education Management Information System (CASEMIS). All schools and school districts are required to use CASEMIS, which collects and aggregates student-level information about individuals receiving special education services. It also serves as a comprehensive management information system to monitor special education programs, meet statutory requirements, identify and research program issues, and evaluate the effectiveness of special education programs with respect to individual student progress.

Another database that gathers education-related information is the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), which includes both general and special education data. CALPADS collects comprehensive, longitudinal information about student discipline, course-taking patterns, and achievement. Other educational data systems include the California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS), the Professional Assignment Information Form (PAIF), the Special Education Non-Public School and Agency Database, and the Special Education Personnel Database, along with other databases used for financial reports.

The fact that information about students receiving special education services is being stored in multiple databases results in duplicated data and inconsistent definitions and time periods for data collection. As a result, reports from the various databases are often dramatically different, undermining the confidence of policy makers and the public in California’s ability to accurately and consistently identify and monitor students receiving special education services and comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of those services. Until such a system is in place, concerns will continue to exist about the validity and reliability of current data, and its utility in informing policy decisions will be limited at best.

The OSEP bases its annual review on the data it receives from the CDE and from other publicly available data sources. This data is typically lacking in alignment and colloquially referred to as “dirty data.” Compromised data compromises the review.

Coordination Among Systems

Aligning organizational structures and systems (including data), policies and procedures, and goals for maximizing student achievement is essential to ensuring alignment with the federal expectations for compliance and performance as set forth in OSEP’s RDA initiative. In service to these unified systems, educational efforts must respond to and, as appropriate, incorporate the new requirements of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the evaluation rubric currently under development. In particular, this work requires a focus on, and specific outcomes for, students with disabilities along with the other students currently specified in LCFF law. Only through integrated and coordinated efforts at every level will schools be able to successfully prepare students for success in postsecondary education, career, and life—and thus realize not only the design of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) but the first goal of public education.


Systems of accountability serve the critical function of strengthening all aspects of educational programming for students as they inform, direct, and support teacher preparation, classroom instruction, individual-goal setting, and meaningful assessment. Before California can implement a rigorous and seamless outcomes-based accountability system for students with disabilities, it must redress disjointed patterns and systems by collaborating to establish the most effective accountability system possible.

In support of this vision, the state needs policy change to ensure the following:

  • A consolidated and integrated special education data system that identifies and eliminates duplicate reporting, especially in the areas of suspensions, expulsions, and postsecondary outcomes.
  • An outcomes-based accountability framework that mirrors federal policy (i.e., the RDA framework) and state policy (i.e., LCFF and LCAP) to evaluate the compliance and performance of public schools throughout the state in educating students with disabilities. Accountability efforts are congruent: efficient, non-duplicative, and integrated (e.g., using the LCAP to meet the RDA framework).
  • Closely integrated and coordinated state and federal monitoring, data collection, and technical assistance and support efforts from all state agencies and divisions: the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, the Department of Finance, the Department of Education (both General Education and Special Education divisions), the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Department of Rehabilitation, the Department of Developmental Services, Division of Juvenile Justice/Department of Corrections, Juvenile Court Schools, and the Department of Managed Health Care.


  1. Blume, H. (June 24, 2014). California ranks poorly in services to disabled students. External link opens in new window or tab. LA Times.
Questions:   Special Education Division | | 916-445-4613
Last Reviewed: Monday, May 8, 2023
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