Imagine you’re trying to choose a Los Angeles school for your child. The Los Angeles Unified School District has data that signal which schools help students learn more. In fact, the school board already agreed to share this information with families like yours.
But on Oct. 8, the Los Angeles Unified school board changed its mind, moving toward a practical lockdown that would shield this crucial insight into how well students do at school.
Now you may never see the material. A school board resolution that would block growth data from being shared with Los Angeles Unified families advanced through committee last week and is headed toward a full vote in November.
Because of this resolution, educators and families won’t gain access to what’s known as student growth data, a measure of how much students learn each year.
Kansas is the only state other than California that doesn’t make this information public.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Just a year and a half ago, the Los Angeles Unified board voted to create a School Performance Framework, which was designed to include student growth scores that would be shared for every public school in Los Angeles. In essence, these figures gauge if schools are helping students make academic progress.
But as often happens in California public education, political arguments are getting in the way of sensible solutions.
A political debate about giving schools an overall rating has broken out and it looks like LAUSD won’t be releasing its School Performance Framework at all. But a more important question, and one entirely separate from the debate over the overall school ratings, is whether LAUSD will release the student growth data that it has already modeled for its own schools.
This data is critical for understanding how schools are doing, where students are learning the most and what the largest school district in the state can do to help the students it serves catch up when they have fallen behind.
Consider those students who start the year behind their grade level. A school that helps them get closer to, or reach, grade level will receive a good score for student growth. The scores also reflect a school’s failure to improve students who begin at or above grade level.
By contrast, the state’s current school-quality measure, the California School Dashboard, looks only at student proficiency. Each year it takes an average of all of the students’ test scores at a school and tells us how far below or above the average student is at that school.
This measure doesn’t tell us anything about where students started out or the impact that a school had on their learning, because it compares one group of students to a different group, rather to themselves.
When LAUSD passed its resolution in April of 2018 it also committed to creating a student growth measure within 180 days. After missing that deadline, the district committed to having it done by the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
Los Angeles Unified is a member of the CORE Districts, a data collaborative of 8 large California school districts, which has developed a nationally recognized student growth model. Other member districts like Fresno and Long Beach use this data to drive school improvement and make it publicly available to educators and families. This level of transparency is exactly what Los Angeles Unified promised to deliver to its families this month.
The timing is especially crucial to parents since the application window for Los Angeles Unified magnets and schools of choice just started. And just this fall, a report released by the Data Quality Campaign with the National PTA underscores why this information is vital. First, the figures give local leaders a chance to recognize schools that are nurturing academic progress and to replicate those successes.
Second, while everyone benefits from knowing how schools perform, these data can be particularly valuable to families in poorer areas where few schools do well in the available ratings system. Armed only with current data, parents can’t see which schools could help their children learn the most. This is vital in a system where six of 10 students are not performing at grade level.
There’s no reason for such important data to be quarantined in Los Angeles Unified offices. This material represents a long-awaited opportunity for the district to build the public’s trust, to follow through on its promises of transparency and to give families the information they need to make good decisions about their future.
They deserve nothing less.
Paige Kowalski is executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit that works to improve the quality, accessibility and use of data in education. Seth Litt is executive director of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that helps public school families use their power to get a good education for children in their community.