State braces for March opening of new accountability website

State braces for March opening of new accountability website

(Calif.) After five-and-a-half years of fits and starts, California’s new school performance evaluation system will come online for full public review sometime in March, according to a memo released last week.

Although the major accountability elements have been known since 2013 and smaller components established shortly afterwards, the unveiling next month will be for the state’s new inter-active website where all the pieces of performance have been carefully integrated for use by parents and students, policy makers and other community stakeholders.

When that day comes and the curtain rises on new site – called the California School Dashboard – there were be many in Sacramento and elsewhere holding their collective breathe – because the initial public reaction will either confirm the years of hard work or send the architects at the California Department of Education back to work.

Already there’s been some negative reviews from the mainstream media, which criticized early mock-ups as being “overly complicated” and “fuzzy.”

But that was before the whole thing was wired together inside what the state hopes is a seamless, user-friendly web environment that can provide both quick answers to basic questions about how a school or district is doing as well as deeper dives into subgroup data.

The Brown administration is betting on a successful rollout.

“This completes the final pieces of a groundbreaking system to help the public better understand what is going on in our schools,” said Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education in a statement last month after the board approved some finishing touches to the website.

“I look forward to the launch of the California School Dashboard later this year, but this is just the beginning,” he said, perhaps hedging the bet. “We plan to make significant improvements in future years.”

Even before Congress empowered states in 2015 to take over the business of setting school and student performance standards and establishing evaluation tools – California was already three years into the debate over how to build an accountability program based on more than just test scores as a result of legislation approved in 2012.

The big lift came the next year when Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders approved the Local Control Funding Formula and its companion, the Local Control Accountability Plans. As a condition of getting additional state aid through the LCFF, districts were required to set goals on scores of performance indicators tied to eight educational priorities and report their progress through the LCAP.

For much of the past two years, the state board and CDE has been working on integrating the LCAP indicators with performance standards. In addition, they have been designing the web-based system for delivering that information.

As described last summer in a memo to the state board, the dashboard will feature a summary report showing performances tied to the LCFF priorities. Officials at the CDE say the report will “prominently” describe areas where a school or district has “significant disparities in performance for any student subgroups.”

At the time, there were plans for a main landing page for each LEA and each school, similar to the School Accountability Report Card.

The system is expected to also have a data analysis tool that will allow users to generate more detailed reports, including both state and local indicators. Among the features the CDE hopes to have up and running:

  • Prepopulated state collected data if available; 
  • An option for uploading data that is only held locally by the LEA and not the statethat will allow districts to communicate LCAP goals that go beyond state minimums. For indicators with standard definitions, support for the upload of local data using standardized file formats. 
  • For indicators currently without a standard statewide definition or data source (such as  parent involvement), the data analysis tool may identify a limited number of options that are grounded in research as valid and reliable measures.  LEAs would use a “local data selection” menu to select one or more of those options to track their progress over time using local data.

Finally there will be support section where teachers, principals and administrators can access a series of best practices aimed at addressing any number of performance problems. Known as the Statements of Model Practices, the guidance will be research-supported and evidence-based and organized to correspond to the indicators in the data analysis tool.