State board to choose school improvement metrics

May 8, 2016

The State Board of Education on Wednesday is planning to choose a handful of statewide metrics to measure student performance as part of its creation of a new school accountability system.

The board will approve the new system in September and begin using it in the fall of 2017. It will replace the Academic Performance Index, the single-number score, based solely on standardized test scores, that the board suspended two years ago. The board is also designing the new system to satisfy federal accountability requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

State board staff are recommending that the board initially choose five metrics to identify which schools and districts need assistance and which demand more intensive intervention. They are:

Not included on the initial list are three measures that student and parent advocacy groups have pressed the board either to adopt now or commit to using in the future: rates of chronic student absenteeism, which is an indicator of school climate and a predictor of a student’s underperformance; as-yet-to-be developed tests on the new state science standards, and indicators or an index of college and career readiness. Board members have expressed interest in eventually incorporating these measures, and at its meeting this week, the state board is expected to adopt an annual timetable for researching and approving new metrics.

In a letter sent Friday to the state board, a collection of nonprofit organizations expressed disappointment that college and career indicators weren’t chosen.

“A decision to include graduation as a key indicator, but not also college and career readiness, would send the wrong message: that simply graduating students, regardless of the skills and knowledge they possess, is the goal of our education system,” read the letter signed by a half-dozen groups, including Children Now, Education Trust-West, the College Board and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

The organizations are still hoping to convince the board to add an additional metric: the percentage of a school’s and district’s students who successfully meet the course requirements, called A-G, for admission to the University of California and California State University. In subsequent years, the organizations argue, with better data and more information, the board could include a composite of several metrics, such as the percentage of students who complete high-quality career and technical programs and who pass Advanced Placement exams.

In a separate letter, most of these these groups joined other organizations in the LCFF Equity Coalition to call on the board to commit to a timetable to add these other factors.

Measured approach

As part of the Local Control Funding Formula, the Legislature required districts to compile nearly two dozen metrics of student progress and other school factors as part of their Local Control and Accountability Plans for district improvement. However, the board has set a high bar in choosing a subset of those as key statewide metrics. The board is requiring that the metrics:

In narrowing the list, the board determined that some metrics currently don’t meet all of the criteria. For example, the state Department of Education won’t begin collecting chronic absenteeism rates until next fall, and there currently is no uniform set of survey questions that all districts use to measure school climate. On their own, six California districts, known as CORE, do include rates of chronic absenteeism and results of student and parent surveys of school climate in an innovative multi-dimensional school improvement index that they established under a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Both CORE and the state also plan to add growth in test scores in math and English language arts as a separate metric, but CORE is further along. It will introduce growth in test scores this fall, after districts receive the results of the second-year scores on the tests, called the Smarter Balanced assessments. The state will adopt growth as an indicator at least a year after that.

Next step: define each metric

After the board picks key metrics, staff will spend the next two months analyzing district and school data to propose the measurement details for each metric. At its next meeting in July, the state board will approve bands of performance for each metric that will enable the state to rate schools’ and districts’ performance as very high, high, intermediate, fair and poor (the board may choose different labels). The board will also decide how quickly it expects schools and districts to improve.

The combination of data on achievement and improvement will create one ranking for each metric. So a district with an 80 percent high school graduation rate that has been flat over the five years may not get as high a ranking as a school with a 75 percent rate that has risen sharply over the same period.

Alberta, Canada, establishes five ranges with which to classify a school ‘s or district’s performance, or outcome, (very high, high, intermediate, low and very low) and improvement (improved significantly, improved, maintained, declined and declined significantly). The combination of the two produces a color-coded rating: excellent, good, emerging, issue or concern.

The state board has been eyeing Alberta, Canada’s improvement system as its model. Alberta uses color coding, from blue, signifying a school with a high ranking, to red – greatly needing help – to depict the results (see graphic). After doing surveys, the board may choose another way to illustrate the data, but Alberta’s graphics explain the state board’s conceptual framework.

State and federal requirements

Both the Legislature, in the Local Control Funding Formula, and Congress, in the Every Student Succeeds Act, mandated that school progress should be measured by more than just test scores. However, they defined differently how the multiple measures should be used to determine the need for school intervention.

The new federal law will require that states intervene in schools performing in the bottom 5 percent, including those with the biggest achievement gaps, as determined by scores on the key statewide metrics. High schools where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate will also get help.

The Local Control Funding Formula laid out eight priorities for district improvement, including student achievement, parent involvement, access to courses and implementation of the state standards. The law said state intervention would be required when, in three out of four years, scores lag in more than one priority area for multiple student subgroups.

The proposed five key statewide metrics would apply to only three of the eight LCFF priority areas: student achievement (math and language arts test scores and English learners’ rate of reaching  proficiency in English), student engagement (high school graduation rates) and school climate (student suspension rates). However, staff will recommend performance levels for metrics for the remaining five priority areas to the state board in July. Districts must use the data to base decisions for their Local Control and Accountability Plans.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst has said he is confident that the board will be able to create one accountability system that meets federal and state requirements. How complicated that will be will become apparent in July, when staff present a final draft of the new system.

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