EdSource_RedesigningAccountability_v2.2
The CORE Districts began in 2010 as a collaboration across school districts exploring ways to improve teaching and learning. In 2013, several school districts in the CORE consortium received a federal waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind law and are working together to develop a new School Quality Improvement Index to provide more and better information about schools and the learning needs of students. The Index scores for schools and districts will be published for the first time later this fall.
In a series of essays to be published as a public service by EdSource, the CORE districts will describe their new school improvement system, and the often difficult decisions school district leaders had to make to develop a system that more fairly and comprehensively measures how well schools and students are doing. The six school districts developing this new accountability system are Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified, Fresno Unified, Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified.
The following is an introduction to the series by Fresno Unified School Superintendent Michael E. Hanson, president of  the CORE Districts’ Board of Directors.
Michael Hanson

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson

Overview: Toward New Measures of School Quality

In some education circles the term “accountability” has become a dirty word. Many educators see it as synonymous with blame or punishment. But what if such systems could instead be used to provide more and better information about the achievement and learning needs of all students? And what if that information could be used to fuel an ongoing system of continuous improvement that empowered educators to build the capacity of schools and support instruction in ways that helped all students to learn? That’s the system we are trying to develop among CORE districts.

Our work began in 2013 after the U.S. Department of Education turned down California’s request for a waiver from some portions of the No Child Left Behind law. Seeking relief, the CORE school districts, representing more than 1 million students, took the unprecedented step of requesting district-level waivers from the federal law and some of its most onerous provisions. Remarkably, in August 2013, our request was granted. This represents the only instance where the federal government has awarded a waiver to individual districts rather than a state.

A central provision of our waiver is to replace the NCLB accountability system and to develop a new one, which we call the School Quality Improvement System. Our work represents a fundamental shift from a compliance-based system to a collaborative model focused in support of continuous improvement.

As educators, we shared the belief that NCLB’s education expectations were far too narrow, forcing school districts to chase achievement in a system that doesn’t define success in a comprehensive or rigorous way. Drawing on the experience and expertise of educators and researchers, we set out to develop a more holistic and comprehensive model. We wanted no less than to redefine educational accountability, which had come to be seen by many as little more than a word for a punitive system offering schools and districts little to no assistance under NCLB. Instead, we focused on developing the “right drivers,” or measurements that we believe collectively can help prepare more students for college and career readiness. In so doing, we have attempted to design a system that assists schools in identifying needs and targeting assistance and interventions.

We believe our new School Quality Improvement System offers a new model for schools and districts in California and across the nation to move away from a narrow focus on test scores only, toward a broader focus on multiple factors that matter for students’ long-term success.

The new system includes multiple measures of academic progress such as growth in student performance over time, high school readiness of 8th-graders and high school graduation rates.

It also includes measures of a student’s social and emotional health, as well as of a school’s overall culture or climate. These include indicators such as chronic absenteeism and suspension and expulsion rates, how quickly English learners are reclassified as proficient in English, and other information gathered by conducting school culture-climate surveys.

The CORE districts also made a critical decision to include a larger number of children in the accountability system than is currently the case. Under NCLB, in many schools in California, if there are fewer than 100 students in any number of subgroups – such as Hispanic or African-American students, English learners, or those in special education – then the assessment results from their unique subgroup have not been used to determine success as defined by the federal legislation. In fact, these students were systemically marginalized by the accountability system.

In the new School Quality Improvement System, however, performance of subgroups with as few as 20 students is included. As a result, over 150,000 students across our districts will now be counted for the first time. That’s well over 13,000 students in Fresno alone in just the first year! We voluntarily took on this extra level of accountability because we care deeply about all of the children in our schools and are committed to addressing the historic inequities that have persisted for far too long. And unlike NCLB, when a system is designed to help improve as oppose to punish, educators welcome accountability and honest conversations about where we can do better – as long as the underlining system is fair and supportive.

In the School Quality Improvement System, participating school districts share their data on all our measures with our analytical partner, the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University. The Gardner Center developed and manages the CORE Data Archive, where we collect the necessary data needed to calculate Index metrics – data such as how many days of school each student attended and whether or not a student was suspended in a given year – which is then refined and analyzed to produce metric results for each school and district. The new system will continuously monitor progress and outcomes in order to ensure students are learning to the highest level possible – and then provide usable information back to the school and classroom to help improve teaching and learning.

To build educational capacity, schools that have shown success with certain student populations will be paired with similar schools that are struggling to meet their improvement goals to provide them with support and effective strategies.

The system is also being used to form communities of practice – groups of people from different schools and districts collaborating to solve common issues – based on greatest needs and the similarity of problems of practice. This collaborative, capacity-building emphasis to improvement is modeled after the efforts of several high-performing countries and could have national significance as systems throughout the U.S. seek to find the most effective intervention strategies. This is particularly true as old lines of division that existed due to states and districts having different standards are rapidly fading. The work itself is now quite similar across the U.S.; whether we completely harness the potential collective impact of deep collaboration is our challenge.

Our goal is to create a system that fuels the continuous improvement of schools to better serve students. Collaboration and shared learning is key to that work. In that spirit, over the next several months we will share with a wider audience some of our internal discussions and debates as we make difficult decisions about key aspects of the new school improvement system we are developing.

We believe that when systems are seen as helping to inform and improve education rather than as punishing teachers and schools, educators will welcome accountability and honest conversations about how we can do better. By sharing our successes and failures and working together, we can promote innovation and bring new strategies to scale to improve student learning and achievement.

•••

Michael E. Hanson is president of the CORE Board of Directors and superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District.  

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    Why does Mr. Hanlon say: “We voluntarily took on this extra level of accountability (reporting on subgroups with as few as 20) because we care deeply about all of the children in our schools and are committed to addressing the historic inequities that have persisted for far too long.” …when, as Ed Source reported, “the waiver requires any subgroup of 20 or more children in a school to be included, instead of a minimum of 100 students, … Read More

    Why does Mr. Hanlon say:

    “We voluntarily took on this extra level of accountability (reporting on subgroups with as few as 20) because we care deeply about all of the children in our schools and are committed to addressing the historic inequities that have persisted for far too long.”

    …when, as Ed Source reported, “the waiver requires any subgroup of 20 or more children in a school to be included, instead of a minimum of 100 students, a threshold that Duncan said left 153,000 children “invisible” in the CORE districts under NCLB.”

    They Didn’t voluntarily take that on. It was part and parcel from the get-go.

    No answer from CORE, the accountability people, regarding Manuel’s comment on LAUSD’s CORE experience.

  2. navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

    I always try to read things with an open mind, but there are some things about this piece that I find curious. First of all, no student who takes a test is 'hidden' from anything except public exposure. The limit on subgroup size is for public reporting only. Schools and teachers still have access to that student's performance results, and if they believe those to be useful for improving those students' opportunities, then they are … Read More

    I always try to read things with an open mind, but there are some things about this piece that I find curious.
    First of all, no student who takes a test is ‘hidden’ from anything except public exposure. The limit on subgroup size is for public reporting only. Schools and teachers still have access to that student’s performance results, and if they believe those to be useful for improving those students’ opportunities, then they are already free to use them. It is true that public reporting has been used as a way to ‘keep the pressure on’, however, the whole direction of the approach described in this article seems explicitly to be away from that as a focus, toward more of a ‘continuous improvement’ cycle, ie more internal reflection and feedback. So I’m not really clear how reducing the subgroup restriction helps unless the goal really is to maintain some level of the existing, more punitive and shaming model.
    Second, although the nature of the narrowing wasnt made explicit here, based on other sources, it appears this refers to two things: the limit of AYP to test-related criteria, and the limit of those tests to English (or, reading) and Math. Although it’s true the old NCLB did list test participation and results in reading and math as a criteria for AYP, it did not only not define the specifics for how that should be achieved, but it actually forced states to define their own AYP metric. Furthermore, NCLB defined a whole slew of areas as making up what it considered the ‘core’ components of an education. In other words, states were never prohibited from defining a more ‘holistic’ approach to school improvement, let alone to AYP. That said, it would be helpful to know whether any states tried this and were rebuffed. If not, I think it’s important to accept that we only have ourselves to blame for any narrowing and lack of holistic approach to school improvement.
    Lastly, although it is not mentioned here explicitly, it is important to recognize that the CORE approach made a strong commitment to full common core implementation by 2014-15 (?!). It would be helpful to understand whether these districts were somehow able to more fully make that transition than non-CORE districts, and how that is reflected in their ‘results’. I remember how LAUSD cited being ahead of that curve as the explanation for how they out-improved most other districts in the state on the 2013 CSTs.
    Also, I dont think its so helpful to try to redefine the term accountability. Common definitions (even outside the education realm) clearly imply some level of blame and punishment. If we want to move away from that, we should use a different term.

    Replies

    • Rick Miller 1 year ago1 year ago

      Navigio, appreciate your thoughts and questions. Let me see start with your point about “hidden.” I guess in some ways this is really a question of looking at subgroups at all. You’re exactly right that schools already have access to the data and these students are counted in school-wide measures, but breaking out subgroups for historically struggling students is a critical equity driver. Probably, however, the disconnect here is a belief … Read More

      Navigio, appreciate your thoughts and questions. Let me see start with your point about “hidden.” I guess in some ways this is really a question of looking at subgroups at all. You’re exactly right that schools already have access to the data and these students are counted in school-wide measures, but breaking out subgroups for historically struggling students is a critical equity driver. Probably, however, the disconnect here is a belief that subgroups only play a role in punitive accountability models. We believe, though, that disaggregated data which calls out inequities can be an important driver used by educators to impact teaching and learning – and that is why keeping low “N sizes” matter in this context.

      To your second point, I’m not familiar with any state that used measures beyond test scores and grad rates – and certainly none that uses non academic measures like culture and climate and social emotional learning. Regardless, the state did not at the time (nor does it now) have many of the data elements that make up our system. So the lack of a comprehensive statewide data system basically ensured narrow options. But since the CORE districts voluntarily share data, we are not equally restricted.

      As for common core, it’s probably too early to answer given the lack of statewide assessment results. But there certainly was an early and deep commitment to implementation in the CORE districts (and many others). It’s also worth noting, that for the purpose of the 2014-15 school year full implementation under the waiver simply meant all PD was aligned to the common core, not our former standards. Finally, that’s a good point on accountability, we probably should think about changing the nomenclature. Thanks again.

      • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

        The reason for my skepticism with CORE has to do with manipulating the definition of accountability - making accountability measure something other than the true core mission of public education, student achievement. Do the CORE districts want to change the definition of accountability to include more malleable parameters such as increased attendance and school climate as a way to avoid the historical quicksand of the achievement gap? School improvement is hard and the obstacles … Read More

        The reason for my skepticism with CORE has to do with manipulating the definition of accountability – making accountability measure something other than the true core mission of public education, student achievement. Do the CORE districts want to change the definition of accountability to include more malleable parameters such as increased attendance and school climate as a way to avoid the historical quicksand of the achievement gap? School improvement is hard and the obstacles are universal. As such scalable examples of proven school improvement are few and far between because school improvement is tantamount to social improvement and that is historically sclerotic and incremental at best. Social and economic progress and the effects it has on culture – home, community and school culture – in the end, drive student achievement because we know out-of-school factors predominate. Call it what you will but no one complains about accountability when schools do well, only when they don’t. That is to say, it isn’t accountability, per se, that is the problem. It’s improving schools and by that, again, I mean student achievement. All other factors in the API under construction are meaningless unless they serve that primary goal. That is, unless we only seek what some call “happy schools” – schools with subpar real performance, but satisfied students, parents, teachers and administrators – all turning a blind eye to a pyrrhic victory.

    • Manuel 1 year ago1 year ago

      To my knowledge, there were very minimal increases in LAUSD's scores in 2013. (I would say that they were statistical blips, but what do I know?) But I can tell you that no Common Core concepts were not implemented before 2013-14. In fact, elementary schools did not get full common-core aligned ELA textbooks but instead got an "insert" that told them how to adapt the texts to CC. In math, they are finally getting around to implementing … Read More

      To my knowledge, there were very minimal increases in LAUSD’s scores in 2013. (I would say that they were statistical blips, but what do I know?)

      But I can tell you that no Common Core concepts were not implemented before 2013-14. In fact, elementary schools did not get full common-core aligned ELA textbooks but instead got an “insert” that told them how to adapt the texts to CC.

      In math, they are finally getting around to implementing it because there were no textbooks until now. Last year it was all hand-outs. Right now, I hear all kinds of complaints about how chaotic the implementation of CC is in high school math.

      For Deasy to have bragged about how LAUSD was ahead of the curve is not surprising. But I think it was a mirage and no different than all his other boasts.

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      I thought the lower limits on former STAR reports were related to confidentiality – that info on such small groups would allow one to deduce approximate individual scores.

      • el 1 year ago1 year ago

        It can't be that per se because scores are reported by grade, and it's possible for grades to have fewer than 20 students at an individual school. But such small numbers have a dramatic amount of noise, and they tend to push things out of proportion. For a class of 20 4th graders, '20% are Below Basic' and '4 students are Below Basic' are the same statement, but my personal reaction to those two statements is … Read More

        It can’t be that per se because scores are reported by grade, and it’s possible for grades to have fewer than 20 students at an individual school.

        But such small numbers have a dramatic amount of noise, and they tend to push things out of proportion. For a class of 20 4th graders, ‘20% are Below Basic’ and ‘4 students are Below Basic’ are the same statement, but my personal reaction to those two statements is pretty different. I think the reality is that with such small numbers individual differences and circumstances are more important than the demographic, and in a group of 20, it should be easy for staff to individually examine each child’s educational status and reach some judgement about where the issues may lie.

        If your group of 20 is a demographic group, those four kids could be in the same family.

        • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

          There are different Ns for different measures. I think the 100 was for API, and there ‘results’ aren’t reported by grade. For STAR the N was 10 for subgroup reporting, but at school levels that was only for proficient and above anyway. But even then, if N was below 10, grade level results were not reported. I think N is (was) also 10 for ayp.

  3. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    "The system is also being used to form communities of practice – groups of people from different schools and districts collaborating to solve common issues – based on greatest needs and the similarity of problems of practice." This is very reminiscent of San Francisco Unified's failed experiment with sharing best practices. The "matrix", as it was called, involved organizing at principal meetings to pair successful schools with underperforming ones. This created a great deal … Read More

    “The system is also being used to form communities of practice – groups of people from different schools and districts collaborating to solve common issues – based on greatest needs and the similarity of problems of practice.”

    This is very reminiscent of San Francisco Unified’s failed experiment with sharing best practices. The “matrix”, as it was called, involved organizing at principal meetings to pair successful schools with underperforming ones. This created a great deal of animosity among school principals who were asked to help implement the policy when the successful school budgets were starved out while the underperforming school budgets were kept flush. It got so contentious the so-called “Superintendent Zone” schools, some of the worst in the state, ended up holding their own separate principal meetings, just the opposite of what was intended.

    SFUSD doesn’t much care about fostering the quality of its high performing schools, the removal of advanced math classes and a one-size-fit-all approach math sequence through 10th grade is one recent example. Carranza has formally expressed a district policy that allows students to double-up in math, a workaround, in order to reach Calculus without a compression course, but the reality is he won’t supply the funds to make those extra courses possible at higher-performing schools. What he does supply is money for the new math sequence.

    There’s nothing wrong in theory with sharing best practices for school improvement. But where are the examples of successful implementation before it is scaled up? Let’s remember that all these policy efforts take a great deal of time, energy and money which could be used for direct instruction, CSR for example. Before you talk about scaling up show some examples of successful trials.

  4. Manuel 1 year ago1 year ago

    It sounds wonderful. Trouble is that the major initiative undertaken at LAUSD under CORE never happened. This was to be the "intervention" that was to take place on Spring and Summer of 2014. This intervention was supposed to be focused on 138 schools only (out of 607 schools receiving Title I funds). This intervention did not happen. Instead, all the funds earmarked for this CORE Waiver task were carried over into 2014-15 ($63.7 million). And they are … Read More

    It sounds wonderful.

    Trouble is that the major initiative undertaken at LAUSD under CORE never happened.

    This was to be the “intervention” that was to take place on Spring and Summer of 2014. This intervention was supposed to be focused on 138 schools only (out of 607 schools receiving Title I funds).

    This intervention did not happen. Instead, all the funds earmarked for this CORE Waiver task were carried over into 2014-15 ($63.7 million). And they are still being carried over into 2015-16 to the tune of $89.8 million instead of being used to improve the educational outcomes that these students deserve.

    This is proof that the CORE Waiver process was an utter failure in the district serving half of those 1 million students mentioned.

    Maybe other districts did better, I don’t know. What I do know is carrying over these amounts while claiming there are no funds is an indication that LAUSD has failed miserably under the CORE Waiver.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Manuel:

      Not to disagree with you on most points, but let’s face the fact that anything going on under the direction of LAUSD management, particularly since it came under the control of the Broad cult (beginning with the former superintendent), stands small chance of success.

      • Manuel 1 year ago1 year ago

        That never stopped them from claiming triumph when everything was a Potemkin Village. Sadly, the local media seems to be aligned with the Usual Suspects and never really exposed this particular sham. They have barely utter a sentence or two on other claims but the rest of the articles always veered away from the damning information. But now we have the so-called "Education Matters" effort which is being funded by the Usual Suspects and their allies. Can … Read More

        That never stopped them from claiming triumph when everything was a Potemkin Village.

        Sadly, the local media seems to be aligned with the Usual Suspects and never really exposed this particular sham. They have barely utter a sentence or two on other claims but the rest of the articles always veered away from the damning information.

        But now we have the so-called “Education Matters” effort which is being funded by the Usual Suspects and their allies. Can we expect it to get better? I doubt it.

  5. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    So you have redefined accountability. OK. Give actual examples of how your new ideas of accountability have resulted in school improvement. Everything else is just talk. Show us how CORE is doing something that has improved the unfortunate situation in which California students in your districts find themselves. Have you any demonstrated improvements? I hope I will read about them in the coming sections, not just a bunch of eduspeak and eduhype.

    Replies

    • Rick Miller 1 year ago1 year ago

      Don, that’s a fair point. To be clear, we do not yet have that data. Not yet anyway This fall will be the first time we release the baseline data so the truly hard work of teachers using that information to improve student achievement will begin. But we felt given the state’s focus on developing a new accountability system we have learned enough that the process we’ve gone through is worth sharing … Read More

      Don, that’s a fair point. To be clear, we do not yet have that data. Not yet anyway This fall will be the first time we release the baseline data so the truly hard work of teachers using that information to improve student achievement will begin. But we felt given the state’s focus on developing a new accountability system we have learned enough that the process we’ve gone through is worth sharing – which we’ll do over the next few months. But we would agree — until we know it improves college and career readiness for all students, we haven’t accomplished anything. But we are trying… Rick Miller, Executive Director of the CORE Districts.