While San Mateo County education officials painted a laudatory picture of the state’s new school accountability system when it launched last week, a bit of time on the website provides a completely different picture altogether.

Dubbed the California School Dashboard, its aim was to provide more information on a variety of topics in response to not only new Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced tests but also new categories in light of the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula.

A dashboard in essence provides useful data, how fast you are going, what level your fuel is, if your engine is running hot, what your revolutions per minute are and if you need to check your engine. Based on your situation, one indicator may be more meaningful for you than others, but it is an apt description for a variety of indicators based on levels of data.

However, how the information is presented is problematic and even the icons for performance levels are initially confusing. Additionally, one cannot seem to search by school, but rather by district or grade levels like elementary or middle schools. The key for the icons shows that blue is the highest and red is the lowest with blue showing a complete five-piece fruit-like slice. As one goes down the icons, a piece of the fruit-like slice is missing, so green (the second-highest) has one piece missing, and yellow (the middle) has two pieces missing, orange (the second-lowest) has two pieces and red (the lowest) has but one slice. It makes it seem as if the missing pieces are indicative of a further level of data, but they are not. It would be simpler to just have dots of different colors without missing pieces or dots of the same color with missing pieces. This obscure performance level key can be overcome, but is indicative of the confusing and incomplete information on the site.

It is also difficult to discern what the levels are and if they are matched up to the colored fruit-like slice and how points above or below are determined and out of what larger number those points are taken out of. Say for instance, one wanted to determine how students with disabilities were doing in a particular school. There may not be a fruit-like slice attached to that data point and there may also be information that says the school’s status is very low, being 102.1 points below level 3, but with no indication what level 3 is and how many points it may be able to drop from one level to the next and what that might even mean.

There is also the issue that if one were to click detailed reports, where one might think more detailed information might be, there is something that reads “Coming Soon!” Granted, the site appears to be in a beta form with lots of N/As, so there could be some improvement once there is more detailed reports and more complete information.

Also largely missing is any type of score. It used to be that you could see a school in the 800s and have a fairly good idea it’s a pretty good school. There are other factors that go into a school’s success, and a school in the 600s could also be good but have some outstanding factors. Exploring those outstanding factors and providing information on them is a good goal, but not when it dilutes the information for all.

The dashboard as it stands right now is fairly useless, and that could change once more information fills in. But the template also seems fairly poor as something parents may be able to use to see how their school is doing compared to other schools in the district or even other districts.

While relying on one number can be seen as an incomplete indicator, providing a poorly designed dashboard with little information from which to glean is worse.

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