Credit: Juliana Halvorson / iStock

After months of drafting, revising and debating how best to measure and improve schools, the State Board of Education this week will adopt key elements of a new and distinct school accountability system.

The series of votes on Thursday will meet the Legislature’s Oct. 1 deadline and will mark 2½ years since the state board suspended its simpler predecessor, the Academic Performance Index. The board expects to change components of the system in coming years.

The new system shifts from a one-dimensional school rating under the API and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, based on test scores, toward a broader picture of what constitutes a quality education. It combines measures of underlying conditions, ­such as teacher qualifications and student suspension rates, and academic outcomes, including gauges of college and career readiness and standardized test scores.

A multi-dimensional system that includes some hard-to-quantify measures like school climate is, by nature, complex, and some parent groups and advocates of  test-score focused accountability are urging the adoption of a summative ranking, like the API’s numerical rating, that is understandable at a glance.

“As parents and community leaders throughout California, we call on our public officials to give families a clearer school rating system that includes an overall assessment of school quality in addition to the currently proposed multiple measures,” reads a petition that the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Families in Schools is circulating.

The staff of the state board is wrestling with how to display on a one-page report card multiple measures of performance that include an “equity report” with results of subgroups of students. Stung by criticisms of early drafts, the board has farmed out the design to the consulting agency WestEd. A new online display won’t be ready until January.

But unless the federal government forces states to adopt a single rating, the board will use a dashboard of data. The board believes that will better enable the public to understand their schools and hold them accountable. And it will highlight achievement gaps that a single rating would gloss over. “A single number is not sufficient to evaluate an employee or buy a house. Similarly, we shouldn’t depend on just one indicator to understand school performance,” board President Michael Kirst wrote in an EdSource commentary last week.

With multiple measures, the board is following the Legislature’s orders. In the Local Control Funding Formula, legislators set eight priorities that school districts must address. They include implementing academic standards, involving parents in school decisions, creating an engaging school climate and raising student achievement. The Legislature left it up to the board to figure out how to measure progress in all eight priorities, and determine which low-performing districts need help.

That’s the overview. Here are some details; additional information can be found in the board’s agenda.

What will the board adopt on Thursday?

Called evaluation rubrics, it’s an accountability tool with several components:

  • A set of statewide and district performance indicators measuring the eight priorities identified by the funding formula.
  • Benchmarks that define levels of performance by districts, schools and student subgroups for each state indicator. For example, high schools that suspended more than 10 percent of their students last year and failed to reduce their rate over the past three years would be in the lowest level.
  • Criteria for determining which low-performing school districts would need technical help from a county office of education and which would require more intensive intervention.
  • Information on model practices, such as descriptions of effective ways districts have lowered absenteeism or suspension rates, for the priorities that board staff are developing.

What are the state indicators?

The board chose six indicators for which there is or will be reliable statewide data for districts and schools.

  • An academic indicator using on scores on Smarter Balanced assessments in English Language Arts and Math for grades 3–8 and on the Next Generation Science Standards tests when they’re developed.
  • A college and career indicator, which, for this year, will combine Grade 11 Smarter Balanced test scores and percentages of students who have successfully completed a career technical education pathway and the high school courses, known as A-G, required for admission to the University of California and California State University.
  • An English learner indicator that includes the progress of English learners toward English language proficiency.
  • High school graduation rates.
  • Suspension rates by elementary, middle and high school grade levels.
  • Rates of chronic absence, when data becomes available, starting next year.

The board will also explore adopting a high school readiness indicator.

How will rankings work with state indicators?

The proposed benchmarks for the high school graduation rate indicator show the interplay between the current year's performance, listed vertically, and the improvement or decline over the past three years. A high school that graduated between 85 and 90 percent of its students in the latest year, in the middle level, could be rated orange (the second lowest ranking) or green (second highest), depending on how much it improved or slipped over the past three years. High schools or districts that rank red would receive technical assistance.

California State Board of Education

The proposed benchmarks for the high school graduation rate indicator show the interplay between the current year’s performance, listed vertically, and the improvement or decline over the past three years. A high school that graduated between 85 and 90 percent of its students in the latest year, in the middle level, could be rated orange (the second lowest ranking) or green (second highest), depending on how much it improved or slipped over the past three years. High schools or districts that rank red would receive technical assistance.

A school or district’s rating on each indicator will be based 50 percent on how well they performed in the latest year’s results and 50 percent on how performance has grown or declined over three or more years. A district’s or school’s performance will fall within one of five levels (see example ). A matrix combining current results and growth will produce a ranking by color, from red for the worst performers to blue for the best.

What are the local indicators?

The board has selected four local indicators, corresponding to priorities under the funding formula for which statewide data is either not yet collected or hard to quantify. They will apply primarily to districts:

  • School conditions: assignment of qualified teachers, distribution of standards-aligned textbooks and the operation of safe, clean and functional facilities.
  • Implementation of Common Core and other academic standards.
  • Parent engagement.
  • School climate through local surveys of parents, teachers and students.

Though they are harder to measure, local indicators will count just as much in determining which districts qualify for state or county assistance or intervention. Instead of a complicated matrix, districts would be rated whether they met, didn’t meet or didn’t meet for two or more years performance expectations. Districts could conduct self-assessments or use guidelines for measuring parent engagement and other indicators that the board will develop.

Which low-performing districts would get help?

Districts and schools will qualify differently. The Local Control Funding Formula only requires assisting districts; it is silent about schools.

The funding formula says that a district will receive technical assistance if one or more student subgroups perform poorly in more than one state priority. Technical assistance could involve bringing in an outside expert. In a letter to the state board last week, a coalition of two-dozen student advocacy organizations called on the board to be more specific about what technical assistance would look like, who would provide it and when.

A district will get more intensive intervention — something state leaders predict will be rare — if it fails to improve in multiple state or local priorities for three or more student subgroups in multiple years. Intervention might involve assigning a trustee to run the district or ordering a change in the district budget.

A combination of red rankings on state indicators and “did not meet” under local indicators will determine which districts get which form of assistance. The state board hasn’t disclosed estimates of how many districts that would be.

Which low-performing schools would get help?

The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act mandates that states provide assistance for their lowest-performing 5 percent of charter and district schools — about 600 in California. But there are signs of conflict over how much weight test scores would have, and whether the state would, against its will, have to create a summary rating like the API. The state board has until March 2017 to submit its state plan. Its first draft will be discussed at the November meeting.

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  1. Bill Younglove 8 months ago8 months ago

    However accountability is defined–and communicated (multiple measures, a dashboard, authentic assessment)–it is a real pleasure to see that, finally, the powers-that-be are willing to take into account the entire culture of school(s) in which teachers actually teach!

  2. Dr. Ernie Zarra 8 months ago8 months ago

    In my book, The Wrong Direction for Today's Schools (2015), which is used by many colleges of teacher education, I detail and analyze the impact of Common Core on American Education. California is headed in the absolute wrong direction. In my latest book, Common Sense Education (August 2016), I propose taking education from Common Core, seeing it through the eyes of ESSA, and extrapolate the sensible approaches beyond both. Rather than use … Read More

    In my book, The Wrong Direction for Today’s Schools (2015), which is used by many colleges of teacher education, I detail and analyze the impact of Common Core on American Education. California is headed in the absolute wrong direction. In my latest book, Common Sense Education (August 2016), I propose taking education from Common Core, seeing it through the eyes of ESSA, and extrapolate the sensible approaches beyond both. Rather than use education as a political ploy for one party, why not place students and families first? This is, after all, the most sensible thing to do.

  3. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 8 months ago8 months ago

    Along with all the other confusing gibberish masking whether or not students are
    learning something, I certainly hope there will be a rubric (!) covering the quality of school lunches and the degree to which students find them acceptable.

  4. Paul Muench 8 months ago8 months ago

    The concerns over multiple measures seem small when compared to the value of having more data. Especially since the state is still providing an overall student test score distribution per school. It's really no more work to get it you just have to find it on the display. BTW, the multiple measures for buying a house seems overblown as API was by far the most important factor. Compared to that anything … Read More

    The concerns over multiple measures seem small when compared to the value of having more data. Especially since the state is still providing an overall student test score distribution per school. It’s really no more work to get it you just have to find it on the display. BTW, the multiple measures for buying a house seems overblown as API was by far the most important factor. Compared to that anything else could be fixed easily. Parents who want to have such a narrow focus can continue to do so with a tiny bit of extra work.

  5. John Harris 8 months ago8 months ago

    Given the (understandable) uncertainty in many areas of this process, the article provides a good and readable overview. Thank you

  6. Chris Reed 8 months ago8 months ago

    The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December, requires a single-score ranking. That goes unmentioned here. The Los Angeles Times editorial board is one of many critics to say the push for a diverse system of rankings is an attempt to muddy the waters, not provide clarity. That goes unmentioned here. It's 2016. We've seen decades of policies adopted by California that reflect teacher unions' priorities. This is one more … Read More

    The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December, requires a single-score ranking. That goes unmentioned here.

    The Los Angeles Times editorial board is one of many critics to say the push for a diverse system of rankings is an attempt to muddy the waters, not provide clarity. That goes unmentioned here.

    It’s 2016. We’ve seen decades of policies adopted by California that reflect teacher unions’ priorities. This is one more example — an attempt to deflect attention away from school performance.

    How on Earth do we have an education blog that doesn’t acknowledge this dynamic? That treats what the education establishment is doing as sincere and well-meaning?

    Sheesh.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 8 months ago8 months ago

      Chris: I actually linked to the LA Times editorial in the sixth paragraph where I wrote, "Stung by criticisms of early drafts, ..." We have written extensively about the potential conflict between the state and the federal government over whether the federal law requires a single-score ranking. See here and here. The draft ESSA regulations appear to require a single school rating (as opposed to the law, which is silent on the issue), but Secretary … Read More

      Chris: I actually linked to the LA Times editorial in the sixth paragraph where I wrote, “Stung by criticisms of early drafts, …” We have written extensively about the potential conflict between the state and the federal government over whether the federal law requires a single-score ranking. See here and here. The draft ESSA regulations appear to require a single school rating (as opposed to the law, which is silent on the issue), but Secretary of Education John King has gotten pushback not just from California leaders (Michael Kirst and Tom Torlakson) but also from Republicans like Sen. Lamar Alexander, so we will have to wait to see what the final regulations will look like. The issue will be discussed at length at the November State Board meeting. You can assume I’ll be there and will write about the issue again before then.