State mulls adjustment to how math scores are counted

State mulls adjustment to how math scores are counted

(Calif.) An unexpected dip in math scores across California has state officials considering adjustments to the new school accountability system that otherwise would tarnish many schools with failing grades.

Because the new performance system is limited to just three years of data, analysts at the California Department of Education said the results from math testing in 2017 were lower enough from the prior two years to be potentially inaccurate once all the numbers are plugged into the final reporting vehicle, the California Dashboard.

The CDE said that without some adjustment in the performance measures, the number of local educational agencies that will receive a “red” designation—the lowest of five rankings with the dashboard—will double in 2017. The concern is that the decline is less a product of schools and teachers than perhaps the evaluation standard.

The California State Board of Education is scheduled to consider the recommendation to adjust the matrix on the math scores at its regular November meeting this week.

Not surprising, school groups are supportive of the recommendations, while a key coalition representing parents and low-income students are opposed.

In a letter submitted to the board late last week, the Association of California School Administrators said that the CDE had made a “compelling case” for why the performance tool needed adjustment. A representative of the California School Board Association said they needed a more detailed explanation.

“We concur with the need to have multiple years of change data in order to see a smooth trend,” said Martha Alvarez, a legislative advocate at ACSA. “The more stability there is in the indicator, the more credibility there will be for the accountability criteria.”

Members of the Local Control Funding Formula Equity Coalition—which includes Public Advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union of California and Education Trust-West—are concerned that the move will actually undermine the credibility of the state’s new system for evaluating school success.

“It appears to subvert the accountability system and risks undermining public confidence,” the Equity Coalition said.

CSBA’s Teri Burns said that they appreciated the CDE’s concerns about wide swings in test results and the need to potentially modify the performance evaluation. “With that said, we have concerns that in cases where there is a significant decline in performance of high performing schools or LEA, that significant decline could be masked by the recommended (change),” she said in a letter to the board.

John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, said in an interview that the board shouldn’t move too quickly on the problem.

“It would potentially undermine confidence in the accountability system if the rules are changed based on the outcomes from year to year,” he said. “We understand that it’s a new system and the data is coming in as we are building the system. But it seems like we need to look at this a little more closely before so quickly jumping to changing the rules.”

There is also concern that down swing in math scores isn’t necessarily related to schools and teachers—instead, the test itself might be in question.

Affeldt noted that scores from many other states are also down this year and could suggest a problem with the assessment. Alvarez said that inconsistency could come from the way the vendor is calibrating scores or that the test itself was failing to return consistent results.