More Than a Single Number
By Scott Turnbull, Superintendent Soquel Unified Elementary School District
“What gets measured gets done.”
— Peter Drucker and Edwards Deming among others
Typically, I like to use this space to highlight student and teacher programs and achievements in our district. This month, I thought it important to highlight an important shift in how school accountability is now being measured using the California School Dashboard. The key features within the new accountability system, according to the California Department of Education (CDE), are Multiple Measures, Equity, and Supporting Local Decision-Making. The new accountability system is not static. It takes into consideration where a school currently is performing and also the growth or decline from the previous year.
Many of us became acclimated with the previous public school accountability system. At a federal level, we had what was called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). At the state level, in California, we had the Academic Performance Index (API). It is the latter, the API, that parents & community became most familiar with. The API was a single number between 200 – 1,000 and the state set of a goal for schools to reach at least 800.
This number was used in a wide variety of formats to represent the quality of a school. For example, it was not uncommon for realtors to list a high API of a neighborhood school as a selling point. The API had been in place since 1999 as part of the Public Schools Accountability Act.
While I won’t go in-depth here on opinions of AYP & API, I feel it’s safe to say that the systems’ main attributes were that at least there was some measure of accountability and that the data was broken down into subgroups such as English Learners and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students. The main challenge with these previous systems was that they were narrowly focused on only one standardized test score. You might remember that test, the California Standards Test (CST).
Having schools judged on a single test excluded the numerous other aspects that school staffs work so hard on. It would be like only looking at one single gauge to determine if your car was functioning properly. What if you only looked at your fuel gauge? Yes, that’s important but we all know you can’t ignore the oil pressure & temperature gauges not to mention the odometer and check engine lights.
Enter the California School Dashboard. It is designed to take a more holistic look at school accountability. My purpose here isn’t to tout its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s face it, no school accountability system is going to be perfect. Schools are complex places made up of human beings, not widgets. Still, the dashboard model is a step in the right direction in that at least it takes into account other indicators, and not just a single test score.
Let’s take a closer look at the California School Dashboard. First, it’s important to know that it is based on Governor Brown’s 2013 school funding reform known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Next, it’s critical to know that test scores still do play a part in accountability. The state test is now called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Other indicators included in the dashboard are Suspension Rate, English Learner Progress, Chronic Absenteeism and (for unified districts) Graduation Rates & Preparation for College/Career.
On each indicator, districts and schools receive one of five color-coded performance levels. The performance levels are indicated by color (blue, green, yellow, orange or red). Blue is the highest and red is the lowest. The performance levels are also indicated by the number of segments in a circle. Red will always have just one segment and blue will have all five segments. The overall performance level is based on how current performance (status) compares to past performance (change).
There’s much more to the whole system. For example, the dashboard will break data out into important subgroups so we can make sure we are supporting all students. If you would like to review the website yourself you can go to www.caschooldashboard.org. This first iteration of the California School Dashboard is considered a field test so everyone can learn more about its nuances before the official release in the fall of 2017.
I began this article with the quote, “What gets measured gets done.” In any system of accountability, then, it’s imperative to make sure that the right indicators are being measured.
With the dashboard model of accountability, the state of California’s Department of Education clearly has moved in a direction that defines a quality education more broadly than a single test score.
It also has emphasized improvement (rather than just current status) in the system. In Soquel Union Elementary School District, like districts across California, we will use data from the California School Dashboard to help us understand our strengths and weakness and inform our Local Control & Accountability Plan (LCAP).
We will work to continuously improve. As the great singer Ella Fitzgerald once said, “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.”