Local education officials gave passing grades to a new school accountability system while critics claim the online index failed its audience by offering confusing and underwhelming results.
The state Office of Education unveiled Wednesday, March 15, the long-awaited replacement for the Academic Performance Index formerly used as a reference for judging a school and district’s quality.
Local officials lauded the California School Dashboard as a more comprehensive and useful asset for gleaning a fuller vision of a school’s environment beyond the previously overly simplistic numerical value offered through the API score.
“I think it paints a more complete picture,” said Gary Waddell, a deputy superintendent with the San Mateo County Office of Education. “As critical as math and English language proficiency is, there is a lot more we ought to be looking at to see how kids are doing in school.”
The new online system rates a variety of both qualitative and quantitative fields on a score card showing success rates in a color coordinated scale. The dashboard not only addresses student scholastic achievement according to scores from the most recent round of Smarter Balanced test scores, but also aims to track yearly progress while also keeping an eye to a community’s socioeconomic status and the overall campus climate.
Though there is merit in the depth of data offered through the slew of assessments, critics believe plenty of room for improvement still remains.
“It’s clear that the data dashboard has been created for an administrative audience, and a not a parent or community audience,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education Trust West, an education advocacy group.
The system is confusing, not intuitive and does not offer obvious achievement targets for novices, Smith.
State education officials should seek feedback from dissatisfied parents and concerned community members for advice to improve the system and make it more user friendly in coming years, said Smith.
“For parents who want to know how their school is doing, they’ll find it nearly impossible to do so,” he said.
Compounding issues associated with the rollout is an incomplete set of available data precluding users from accessing detailed reports or large swaths of the equity and student group assessments.
Some of the kinks are tied closely to the model being filled with only one year’s worth of data, while a state official attributed a portion of the difficulties to issues commonly faced when rolling out a new virtual product.
“The system experienced some technical issues in the first few hours when it went public this morning, which can occur with large-scale website openings,” Robert Oakes, a spokesman for the state Office of Education, said in an email.
Local officials were much less critical, claiming the dashboard will be a valuable asset in understanding their district’s strengths, as well as identifying fields needing more attention.
“The [San Mateo Union High School District] agrees that the state’s new dashboard is helping to shift how we think of achievement in public education” spokeswoman Sheri Costa said in an email. “It will help raise the bar for student learning, transform testing and put the focus on equity and growth. As a district, we feel the state is looking at good indicators and that the tool will continue to build upon the success of this first year iteration.”
She pointed to data showing successes in helping students learn English, graduation rates, career and college preparedness along with decreased suspension rates as an example of the progress achieved in the local high school district.
Measurements of such fields are the types of new metrics offered through the dashboard for which the API offered no evaluation.
Joan Rosas, superintendent of the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District, also lauded the new assessment system in its ability to help educators plan allocating their resources in the coming year.
“By using multiple measures, and representing both status and growth, a more complete picture is presented in contrast to past accountability systems which involved a single numeric assessment point,” she said in a prepared statement.
The district hit its marks for language arts and mathematics, as well as showing adequate performance in limiting suspensions, while also needing to improve its support of students learning English, said Rosas.
School districts can look to lower scores shown on the dashboard as areas to address with money allocated through the Local Control Accountability Plan, which each district must formulate when seeking state funding, said Waddell, whose office works with districts to help integrate the lessons learned from the results into their planning.
While acknowledging some of the system’s shortcomings, Waddell said he believes its debut marks progress in the search for a fuller understanding of a school environment.
“I think this is an opportunity to highlight some promising practices that are happening where people are moving in the right direction,” he said.
Go to caschooldashboard.org to learn more.
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