CA new accountability display met mostly with favor

CA new accountability display met mostly with favor

(Calif.) Education officials in California are breathing a sigh of relief after the unveiling of the state’s new school accountability dashboard was met with little public resistance last week.

Reviews from mainstream media had criticized the early mock-ups as being overly complicated, including a scathing review from the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which last summer called the new system “baffling” and unclear. 

“What we were showing before is like the operating system of your iPhone, and people reacted to that calling it too complex and impossible, and we actually rolled out the iPhone this week,” California Board of Education president Mike Kirst explained in an interview. “We never intended for those samples we used in policy deliberations to be interpreted as the iPhone. It’s been heartening to see that once people saw the actual thing users are going to get, rather than policy discussions with complex charts, we’ve gotten more acceptance.”

Not every state has fared so well. Recent rollouts of new school accountability reporting in a handful of states have been met with condemnation. In Texas, preliminary letter grades are being assigned to schools as part of a new A-through-F system that takes into account student test scores, college and career readiness, student growth and narrowing achievement gaps. The education community has called the letter grades too simple and an inaccurate representation of actual school performance.

Similarly, education officials in Alabama and Oklahoma–both of which also use A-F school report cards–have said that while the letter grades are more easily understood by parents and the public, the results are meaningless since they can mask specific areas where schools are having issues.

California’s previous systems, the Academic Performance Index, worked in a similar fashion to letter grades, using a single number heavily influenced by student test scores. Critics argued that the evaluation system pushed schools to focus on tested subjects while ignoring others that contribute vital to a well-rounded education.

The new system–five years in the making–reflects a national shift toward a more holistic approach in evaluating school performance. Although standardized test scores are still represented on the dashboard, color-coded ratings will also appear in areas including graduation and suspension rates, language acquisition of English learners, reading and math performance, and academic achievement specifically of various subgroups, including students with disabilities and foster youth.

For rating purposes, red represents the lowest possible performance, followed by orange, yellow in the middle, green, and blue demonstrating very high performance.

The dashboard allows parents and other stakeholders to access an overview of their school’s performance, but also provides an opportunity to dive deeper into subgroup data.

The new system is not without complaints though–some student advocacy groups have said the colors are misleading and can be too generous in evaluating schools that are improving but still rate below average. Others have argued that parents will not be able to access student information through the evaluations.

Indeed, parents receive a more complete, in-depth assessment scores with an analysis for their individual child, Kirst said. The information provided on the dashboard should be used as a supplemental resource to help parents better understand the school that their child attends, and give more context to individual student reports, he explained.

Ultimately, Kirst said that he believes the trade-off between a somewhat more complex system and one that was oversimplified has paid off.

“What I feared was a repeat of the early Los Angeles Times editorial about the whole thing being hopeless and that we should just throw it out,” Kirst said. “People seem to have accepted that we need to approach it from an entirely different conceptual framework, and that we need to bring in an alternative view on how to report on schools, and that the past system was oversimplified and lacked what we need.”