Dashboard dilemma: key indicators run years behind

Dashboard dilemma: key indicators run years behind

(Calif.) With just weeks to go before California’s new school evaluation system goes live, state officials acknowledged that two key indicators–graduation rates and student discipline numbers–will track two years behind current conditions.

Staff at the California Department of Education said at a hearing Thursday that there may be methods for bringing suspension and expulsion records closer to real time, but graduation and dropout rates cannot be calculated until after one school year ends and another begins.

Although the flaws are understandable, they also highlight the public relation pitfalls facing the CDE and the California State Board of Education as they prepare to invite parents, taxpayers and all other stakeholders to engage with the new web-based performance tool.

The much anticipated curtain raising is set for some time in March, but the CDE noted in a memo this week that local educational agencies will be able to preview the system before then.

They are also qualifying the launch as a “field test,” where user feedback “will inform continued improvements for the 2017-18 school year, when the new accountability system for LEAs is fully operational.”

The sensitivity to how the public–and certainty the mainstream press–reacts to all aspects of the system, is also understandable and why even modest faults could lead to painful reviews.

“We want data that is as recent as possible and we are committed to turning around data as quickly as possible,” said Keric Ashley, the CDE’s Deputy Superintendent for the District, School, and Innovation Branch at a meeting last week of an advisory panel that is helping to oversee the new accountability project.

“One thing that local schools and districts do have available to them are the counts they’ve  submitted (to the state),” he said, suggesting districts can make available related information to the public until the more refined data is released statewide by the CDE.

Work on devising new accountability measuring school and student success has been underway in California for more than five years– well ahead of the passage in 2015 of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which returned authority over accountability to the states.

Adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula and the Local Control Accountability Plans in 2012 called for districts to set goals on scores of performance indicators tied to eight educational priorities set by the Legislature and publicly report their progress.

Meanwhile, the state board and the CDE have been engaged with establishing performance standards for the educational priorities and integrating them into a web-based reporting platform to deliver all of the scoring data to the public.

It is that reporting platform–called the California School Dashboard–that will go live sometime in March.

Early mock-ups have already been panned by the mainstream press, which called the system “overly complicated” and “fuzzy.” The fact that some key indicators will run years behind present conditions could add fuel to the criticism.

The question about the graduation rates and student discipline numbers was raised during last week’s meeting of the California Practitioners Advisory Group, an 18-member panel appointed by the board to help develop an accountability system that meets both state and federal requirements.

Kim Kenne, a member of the panel and a trustee of Pasadena USD’s Board of Education, said that use of the outdated indicators will likely cause some concern both from within the school system and from outsiders.

“So here we are in 2016-17 and we’re using data that’s two years old,” she said. “I know it’s frustrating. It’s hard from an outsider, looking at it from accountability perspective who will say, that’s really old data. But I think it’s even harder for people in the system who want to see if they are making progress, in line with continuous improvement.”

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