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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

California adopts ‘rosy’ school ratings

After three years without a school accountability system, California Superintendent Tom Torlakson lauded the California School Dashboard as “a high-tech report card for our schools.”

The new color-coded system “paints a far rosier picture than in the past,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Nearly 80% of schools serving grades three through eight are ranked as medium- to high-performing in the new ratings,” even though the majority of students failed to reach English and math standards in last year’s state testing, according to the Times‘ analysis. “More than 50 of those schools whose average math scores fell below proficiency receive the dashboard’s highest rating for math.”

A slide from L.A. Unified's presentation to principals.

Why? The dashboard combines achievement with growth.

In 2015-16, “just above half” of students at Brooklyn Avenue Elementary in East Los Angeles failed to meet state goals for math,” but the school’s math scores grew by 16 points. The school earned a blue, the highest rating, in math.

More than 90 percent of students at West Hillsborough Elementary in San Mateo County scored above proficient in math. But scores declined slightly, so the school got a green, one color down.

For years, the Academic Performance Index gave each school a number, based on test scores, and two decile ratings: Parents could see how the school compared statewide and to schools with similar demographics. It was possible to track improvement.

Now . . . It’s very, very confusing.

A school does not get a color rating for overall performance. It might get a rainbow of ratings in areas that include reading and math performance, as well as rates of graduation, English-language acquisition for nonnative speakers and suspension. And in each area, it gets credit for progress.

The system is “terribly misleading,” said Carrie Hahnel, deputy director of research and policy at the Education Trust–West. “It doesn’t do anybody any favors to communicate that things are just fine if they’re not.”

So far, the dashboard includes data on “math and English language arts test results, high school graduation rates, suspension rates and progress of English learners in becoming proficient in English,” writes John Fensterwald on EdSource.

In the fall of 2018, the first data on chronic absenteeism, a rough indicator of student engagement, will be included. And there will be preliminary data on the indicator of how well high schools prepared students for college and careers. For now, there is a link to only one element of that indicator, the 11th-grade Smarter Balanced math and English language arts test results.

“The state appears to be “purposefully hiding data,” charged Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice.

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