CORE Districts can inform state’s new accountability system

August 24, 2016

Long Beach Unified Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser

As California prepares to adopt its new multiple-measure school accountability system, the CORE Districts can offer firsthand experience and data to inform the transition and ongoing policy work. The CORE Districts, representing Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento unified districts, have a six-year history of collaboration and three years of experience under a federal waiver for school and district accountability. Sharing the lessons we are learning can help inform California and the nation.

More than 1,600 schools serving more than 1 million students and their families are situated in the CORE Districts, and they already are supported by the type of continuous improvement and accountability the state seeks. In fact, the CORE Districts’ accountability model uses measures that are more robust than the accountability system being developed by the state.

The CORE Districts’ system is similar to the state’s emerging accountability system in important ways, including its use of state-collected data on test scores, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates and information about English learners.

But for a more complete picture of school performance, the CORE Districts’ accountability index also takes into account growth in student performance over time, the extent to which 8th graders are ready to enter high school and measures of students’ social-emotional skills and of a school’s overall “climate.” A school’s climate refers to factors such as the level of support students receive for academic learning, the perceived fairness of discipline, the sense of safety experienced by students, as well as the extent to which they feel they belong or are connected to their school.

Educators in the CORE Districts believe responding to these combined academic and non-academic measures is key to ensuring schools are best preparing students for colleges and careers.

Data evaluation for the CORE Districts is conducted by the independent, nonpartisan research center Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), which helps us look at state and locally generated data in multiple ways. Together we evaluate and disseminate useful data with our schools and districts. Sharing our successes and failures and working together, we promote innovation and bring new strategies to scale. Our data helps to pinpoint the needs of students, learn more about schools that are excelling and the strategies they are using, and identify schools in need of additional support.

A recent CORE-PACE report highlights how schools can be identified for support and improvement using a multiple-measure framework. Using the CORE Districts’ data, the report illustrates how different academic indicators measure very different aspects of school performance. The report illustrates the tradeoffs between using a single summative score to identify schools for support and improvement versus a more tiered approach.

Our data also show the significance of including non-academic measures such as culture and climate and postsecondary readiness in the process for identifying schools in need of support and improvement. Our research shows how data can influence and identify a clear path forward to improve student outcomes in our lowest performing schools. The ability to continue to explore and refine both academic and non-academic accountability measures is imperative to support educational priorities identified in state and federal laws.

In a recent letter to the Fordham Institute, California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst previewed some of the broad policy decisions the state and federal government face. He wrote “this is a difficult task and will require continuous improvement…. some patience with the people charged with implementing these laws is needed.” We couldn’t agree more.

To help inform state and federal policy decisions moving forward, the CORE Districts are proposing to serve as a research pilot. Among many benefits, a pilot will allow the state to further explore how multiple measures for school accountability and improvement interact in the CORE Districts.

Research pilots are not new. In fact, they are commonly used in educational settings to explore promising practices. For example, Long Beach Unified, one of the CORE Districts, grants flexibility to local schools as research pilots for the district. The pilots allow schools to explore new instructional practices and resource allocations that can be replicated to help improve student outcomes districtwide. California now has an opportunity to designate the CORE Districts as a research pilot for statewide purposes.

Under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states have waiver authority to use innovative practices in local districts to help design new state accountability systems.

By serving as a research pilot and sharing data on multiple measures, the CORE Districts can help ensure a coherent accountability system that best serves California’s students, educators, schools and districts.


Christopher J. Steinhauser is the superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District and a member of the CORE Districts’ board of directors.

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