Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource
Sophomores attend chemistry class at Skyline High School in Oakland.

The California Charter Schools Association released on Tuesday what the State Board of Education vowed it would not recreate: a statewide ranking of district and charter schools based on standardized test scores.

The association’s data tools re-establish what’s been missing since the state board did away with the Academic Performance Index, the state system that assigned each school a number between 200 and 1,000 based on standardized test results in multiple subjects.

   The charter association represents many of the state’s 1,230 charter schools. Its database lists more than 10,000 district and charter schools according to their scores on the first two years of the Smarter Balanced tests in English and math in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11. The schools are ranked from 1 to 10, with 10 the highest. A separate index compares schools to those with comparable populations of students; the API also provided this. ( The association’s school index page includes links to the State Ranks and Similar Schools Ranks Spreadsheet, the Statewide School Accountability Spreadsheet with additional measures, and background information.) 

“The Association believes it is important information for parents facing a decision on where to send their children to school and for districts deciding whether to renew a charter school,” said association spokeswoman Emily Bertelli. “Both need access to comprehensive data.”

The state board suspended the API three years ago. In September, the board approved a new system that will gauge school and district performance on 10 measures without combining all of the factors to create a summary number or grade or giving more emphasis to test scores. Performance on English language arts, math and eventually science tests will be one indicator along with student suspension and chronic absentee rates, success of English learners in learning English and a measure of high school students’ readiness for college and careers.

The state will issue its first multicolored school and district report cards early in 2017.

How much weight for test scores?

The state board has insisted that a display of multiple measures will give a richer, more informative picture of school performance, will better highlight disparities among groups of students and will point to specific areas that need attention.

But other advocacy organizations, such as the Children Now, and the federal Department of Education also have called for giving more weight to test results and an overall school ranking. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 2548, despite near unanimous support in the Legislature, that would have required the state board to take this approach.

“People are looking for something that is simple and easily accessible in moving from the old system to the new,” said Arun Ramanathan, CEO of the school consulting organization Pivot Learning Partners. “If the state doesn’t provide it, then the charter schools association or a private company will. That’s the way data is.”

While looking at multiple measures of a school is important, charter schools are held to academic standards, said Elizabeth Robitaille, senior vice president of achievement and performance management for the charter schools association. The state law governing charter schools says district authorizers should make academic performance the primary factor in deciding whether to reauthorize a charter, she said. The similar schools index is particularly important for districts evaluating charters serving low-income students and English learners, she said.

She said the association has done similar schools analyses in past years, before the API was discontinued, and did not create a statewide database with the intent of showing that charter schools outperform district schools. A full analysis is several months away. However, the association will use the similar schools index as a factor in making its annual recommendation later this month on which low-performing schools should not have their charters renewed, she said.

The association’s index separately ranks a school’s scores in 2015 and 2016 but does not factor in growth in scores into the rankings. The state board’s measure of test scores will give equal weight to a school’s and district’s annual score and the average growth over three years. The state says that method will reveal schools with average scores that are stagnating and low-performing schools showing improvement.

However, Robitaille criticized the state’s narrow methodology for measuring a school’s scores and said the association’s method is an improvement. The state rates schools based on the percentage of students who achieve a score of proficiency or higher on math and English language arts tests. The association said this does not distinguish between students very far below proficient and those just shy or well above of the proficiency score.

Others have reached the same conclusion, and the state board, acknowledging the weakness, said it intends to change methodology next year. The California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, has not produced a statewide database of test scores, but has created a test score ranking index for its districts that combines growth and a more sophisticated look at school results.

Rick Miller, the executive director of CORE, called the charter association’s approach “a reasonable step in the interim” until better methods of analyzing statewide scores are developed.

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  1. Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

    I would agree with Todd if the tests that produce the rankings were neutral in how they "measure" each students. But they don't. It has been pointed out that the API correlatesd highly well with the relative wealth of the school. The CAASPP scores are no different. Depending on the ideology of the opinion maker, it is either of two extreme reasons: either the poor students are simply never going to meet standards because they are … Read More

    I would agree with Todd if the tests that produce the rankings were neutral in how they “measure” each students. But they don’t.

    It has been pointed out that the API correlatesd highly well with the relative wealth of the school. The CAASPP scores are no different.

    Depending on the ideology of the opinion maker, it is either of two extreme reasons: either the poor students are simply never going to meet standards because they are congenitally not able to or it is because their teachers are highly ineffectual.

    Both extreme reasons are demonstrably false for a variety of reasons and countless articles and even books have been written on them.

    There is a simpler answer: the tests themselves are designed to promote standards that cannot be met by most students who grow up in poverty. This is shown by the score data itself when it is presented as a function of school poverty: the distribution of the data shows that the average score increases as the poverty of the schools in the cohort presented is reduced.

    Does this mean that the standards should be decreased until they are “met” by poor students? Not necessarily, but it does say that if we wish all students to have an equal probability of scoring higher then the consequences of poverty must be removed in the school environment. One way would be to introduce programs to provide the skills and common knowledge that students must have for academic success equal to those of students who do not grow up in poverty.

    Of course, this approach takes resources and cultural innovations that we are mostly unwilling to provide as a society. However, unless this is done then the so-called achievement gap will never go away. To pretend that a “no excuses” environment makes poverty go away is 100% unrealistic. True, extraordinary students always succeed but if we demand, as NCLB once did, “100% proficiency” then the ordinary student, who is the majority, will always fail to meet that expectation.

    It is up to society as a whole to determine what “standards” have to be met. But we can’t continue to repeat the CST experiment with the CAASPP. It is time to question the actual design of the tests, how they are scored and what do they really tell us rather than the obvious (“well, students and teachers get used to the tests and will score higher as time goes on”).

  2. Jake from State Cali 2 years ago2 years ago

    Until the CCSA quits supporting Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) profiting from our kids and stealing funds to provide profits to shareholders, they have no credibility with me.

  3. Elizabeth Robitaille 2 years ago2 years ago

    Dear Ms. Kenne, this is CCSA responding - we think this may be an issue with your computer. You can email accountability@ccsa.org and we will send you a PDF of the data file. We will also post a PDF version on our website in case any other users encounter this issue. Thanks for your interest. Read More

    Dear Ms. Kenne, this is CCSA responding – we think this may be an issue with your computer. You can email accountability@ccsa.org and we will send you a PDF of the data file. We will also post a PDF version on our website in case any other users encounter this issue. Thanks for your interest.

  4. Kim Kenne 2 years ago2 years ago

    Just tried to access the link to the statewide ranking and my Norton security software gave me the message “Dangerous Website Blocked”. Anyone know about this?

  5. Todd Maddison 2 years ago2 years ago

    Caroline - Ranking systems don't "reward and exalt or punish and denigrate schools"; they simply reflect the ranking rules that were set up for that system to show who scores the best in that particular ranking. It's the humans who set up "reward, exaltation, punishment, and denigration" rules that simply choose to use them for that. If what you are looking for is "schools with the best test scores," ranking by test scores is how … Read More

    Caroline – Ranking systems don’t “reward and exalt or punish and denigrate schools”; they simply reflect the ranking rules that were set up for that system to show who scores the best in that particular ranking. It’s the humans who set up “reward, exaltation, punishment, and denigration” rules that simply choose to use them for that.

    If what you are looking for is “schools with the best test scores,” ranking by test scores is how you do it. Certainly there are reasons behind schools that perform better or worse in that, but that doesn’t mean the ranking has no value. It’s all a matter of how you use it.

    Now, since you’re interested in this topic, I have to ask the question I often ask of those who are decrying using this or that metric to measure the quality of our schools: Do you think that’s impossible and we should just give up trying, or is there some rubric you believe does a more accurate job that should be adopted?

    I will tell you that one basic rule of science is if you can’t measure something, you can’t repeat it (or improve it).

    One would think after the number of decades we’ve been debating test scores as that measure, someone would propose a repeatable, reliable, and “better” method of doing that rather than just saying “your method is flawed” repeatedly (which is what I usually see).

  6. Chris Reed 2 years ago2 years ago

    A lengthy story about an important topic that doesn’t even mention the powerful California Teachers Association and its fervent opposition to any attempts to evaluate teachers, schools and districts. Disappointing. Also incredible.

  7. SLuchini 2 years ago2 years ago

    Rating charters by test scores will never really show a true picture of educational progress or reform as long as these schools continue to discriminate against students with moderate/severe disabilities, English language learners, Foster and homeless youth. When able to pick and choose which types of student to enroll, the choice usually does not involved those the law had originally intended to help - those of most need. There is no comparison when … Read More

    Rating charters by test scores will never really show a true picture of educational progress or reform as long as these schools continue to discriminate against students with moderate/severe disabilities, English language learners, Foster and homeless youth. When able to pick and choose which types of student to enroll, the choice usually does not involved those the law had originally intended to help – those of most need. There is no comparison when schools purposefully eliminate students who would bring overall school test scores down.

    Charters were supposed to be little laboratories of innovation that were to share “best practices” with regular public schools. It’s unfortunate that the only “best practices” to come out of this experiment with our tax dollars has been overt discrimination. Regular public schools are not allowed to discriminate and neither should the charters, but they do and are not held accountable.

    The CCSA is a lobbying mechanism as much as a support organization. Parent of students with disabilities, English language learners, Foster and homeless youth do not have the same backing or ability to advocate for the needs of their children and Sacramento is truly in the dark about charters creating disruptive practices of fake parent groups in attempts to take over schools or suck away students from district regular schools. We know they discriminate based on data. While LAUSD enrollment has gone down, special education enrollment has pretty much stayed consistent – meaning the charters are NOT taking those students. We’ve known for years, told the state they’re discriminating, yet the CCSA continues to pour money into telling a different story.

    Provide proper funding for all schools, provide more oversight to charters. I’m so disappointed with Gov. Brown’s actions in failing to sign AB 709, the Charter School Transparency bill, but then he created a couple himself that were not enrolling the same student population I mentioned.

    When you fix the game, it’s easy to win….

  8. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    All school rankings systems exalt the privileged and punish the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Test scores overwhelmingly correlate with socioeconomics -- that's why the savvy always referred to the API (officially Academic Performance Index) as the Affluent Parent Index. But the multiple measures will do the same thing -- reward schools that serve the fewest high-need students, punish those that don't. (Students from some Asian demographics also tend, overall on average, to be high achievers regardless … Read More

    All school rankings systems exalt the privileged and punish the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Test scores overwhelmingly correlate with socioeconomics — that’s why the savvy always referred to the API (officially Academic Performance Index) as the Affluent Parent Index. But the multiple measures will do the same thing — reward schools that serve the fewest high-need students, punish those that don’t. (Students from some Asian demographics also tend, overall on average, to be high achievers regardless of socioeconomic status.)

    Charter schools are in a different category as they are free to pick and choose their students, or to impose admissions processes that self-select for motivated, compliant students from motivated, compliant, supportive, high-functioning families. They’re also free to push out any students they wish.

    So any ranking system will reward and exalt or punish and denigrate schools based on the demographics they serve, along with their ability to employ selective enrollment processes.

    Replies

    • MH 2 years ago2 years ago

      Correlation does not prove causation. Poverty is also not a perfect correlation. Just look at the AVID program. The vast majority of AVID students qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch (>80%). Yet, they have a 99.9% graduation rate in my region and more than 85% go on to college with a higher success rate than their non-AVID peers. You also contradicted your own argument when you said that Asians … Read More

      Correlation does not prove causation. Poverty is also not a perfect correlation. Just look at the AVID program. The vast majority of AVID students qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch (>80%). Yet, they have a 99.9% graduation rate in my region and more than 85% go on to college with a higher success rate than their non-AVID peers. You also contradicted your own argument when you said that Asians perform well without regard to their socioeconomic status. Maybe it’s not the poverty that causes the lower achievement, maybe it’s a combination of the parenting, the neighborhoods, the lack of books and internet access, the teachers, the living conditions, the lack of role models, the single parent families, the language barriers, the poor nutrition, etc. As long as you blame it on something non-tangible (eg. poverty), then everyone feels powerless to fix the problem and we remain with the status quo.
      You are also way off base with your comments on charter schools. Charter schools are required by law to have random lotteries for admission. They cannot select who they want. They cannot impose admissions processes either, the process is well-spelled out in the law. Sure there are a small percentage who try to skirt the laws, but it’s a very small percentage and there is an equal percentage of non-charter schools skirting the laws as well. Charter schools are part of the same accountability system as all other schools (except private schools) and this new system that you so vehemently oppose will punish schools with high turnover rates, suspension rates, and expulsion rates. But, you will find that the charter schools do not have the turnover rates that you think they do. My daughter goes to a charter school (8th best middle school in the state) that has a 98% Continuous Enrollment rate. That is far higher than any of the non-charter schools in the area. If they are kicking out bad students (which they aren’t), then it’s less than 2%. My son attended a charter school with a 99% Continuous Enrollment rate and a 67% free and reduced price lunch rate. They’ve won awards for the graduation rate and test scores. They had a similar schools rank of 10!
      Please don’t believe everything that you read on the internet. There are great charter schools and there are terrible charter schools. But the great or terrible is not due to whether or not they are charter. There are great non-charter schools and there are terrible non-charter schools. But poverty is not the cause of the terrible schools despite the fact that there is a correlation.