State board adds school climate, college and career readiness to potential list of metrics

May 11, 2016

The State Board of Education approved a historic policy shift Wednesday in how it will evaluate schools, moving from a system based solely on standardized test scores toward one taking a broader look at school improvement, academic achievement and student well-being.

The board endorsed a half-dozen metrics, including high school graduation and student suspension rates, and it directed staff to develop ways to measure college and career readiness and school climate for consideration when the board next meets in July.

Together, the metrics will form the key or top-level elements of a uniform state and federal accountability system that will determine when schools and districts require initial assistance or more extensive intervention. The board will adopt the new system in September and implement it in 2017-18.

The statewide metrics will include those that Congress required in the Every Student Succeeds Act: English language arts and math test scores for grades 3 to 8, high school graduation rates and how quickly English language learners become proficient in English. The state board plans to add student suspension rates and, when data become available, rates of chronic student absenteeism and test results on the new science standards. Along with yearly test results, it asked staff to factor in a school’s improvement in scores – another significant change. Together with non-test measures of college and career readiness, the metrics will give a bigger picture of how well schools are succeeding in meeting the academic and broader needs of children, as the Legislature laid out with eight priorities in the Local Control Funding Formula.

The board’s action, directing staff members to research additional metrics, came after six hours of discussion and public testimony and went further than an initial set of metrics that staff had recommended. School groups, such as the California State PTA and the Association of California School Administrators, as well as a coalition of student advocacy groups, all of whom had called for school climate, student engagement and college and career readiness indicators, praised the board’s decision. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Advisory Task Force on Accountability and Continuous Improvement, whose 30 members included representatives of education and advocacy groups, also endorsed these additional measures in a report released on Wednesday.

In their presentation, staff members and Deputy State Superintendent Keric Ashley stressed limitations in choosing a single career or college readiness indicator and the potential difficulties of creating an index of measures, such as percentage of students who pass a career technical education pathway or qualify for admission to the University of California or California State University. The lack of uniform questions in student surveys poses similar challenges with a school climate metric, he said. They don’t meet the board’s criteria of data that are valid, consistent and research-based.

But board members said perfection shouldn’t be the standard. “All of the metrics have deficiencies, so the question is, ‘What can we live with?’” said board member Bruce Holaday. Metrics with limitations can still be helpful, he said, when problems, like high suspension rates, prompt new approaches to discipline.

Board member Trish Williams said that the dozens of high school students who have testified before stressed school climate and how they value feeling safe and respected. It’s important that the board acknowledge this and make school climate a priority, she said.

Source: State Board of Education webcast.

Diana Cruz, a Long Beach leader in the student group Californians for Justice, praises the state board for including student suspension rates as a key accountability metric and recognizing the importance of school climate,

Diana Cruz, a high school junior from Long Beach who’s active in the student grassroots organization Californians for Justice, expressed her appreciation. “I think it’s amazing how much our state board is listening to the voices of our students, and I’m happy to be once again standing before everyone here to talk about how important it is to have school suspensions as a primary indicator,” she said. “Although academia is extremely important, so is the well-being of our students, and the first step in taking care of them is measuring our school climate.”

But in testimony and in a letter to the state board, the California School Boards Association said it opposed making suspension rates a key priority, since the data can be “manipulated,” and districts use use different definitions of suspension. It also advised the state board  “to avoid expansion beyond a limited number of key indicators.”  Continuing to have suspension rate “available at the local level is highly valuable, but little will be gained by including it as a key indicator,” the letter said.

The board’s motion, by Sue Burr, directs staff to define performance metrics and measures of improvement for all of the priorities that are in the funding formula by the next meeting. Even if the board doesn’t add school climate and college and career readiness indicators to the initial list of statewide measures, districts will have to address them in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, the annual planning documents they must create.

The board also directed staff to create a way of displaying the scores or ratings by student subgroups within districts and schools on all of the top-level metrics so that the public will quickly be able to identify “significant disparities” in achievement.

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