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Report card time for schools: California Dashboard goes live today, but some find it impossible to navigate

Mike Szymanski | March 15, 2017



California Dashbord video

A teacher explains the dashboard in a state-sponsored video.

A statewide public school rating system is available today, but some find it difficult to understand.

Rather than having a simple one-number score, the new California School Dashboard Report uses a series of colors to rate various aspects of each school. Some community groups say that makes it hard for parents to compare schools.

Former school board member David Tokofsky told LA School Report on Tuesday, “What do you look at your car dashboard for? To see if you have gas, to see if there’s an emergency, and see how fast you’re going, that’s it. What does this have? A grid with 25 boxes? This dashboard has too much. Parents will be mystified on how to use this.”

Seth Litt from Parent Revolution took a whole bus load of parents from Los Angeles to Sacramento last week to try to convince the state Board of Education to use their suggestion for two summative colors at the top of each school’s page to make it easier for parents to assess schools.

“While the new system takes some positive steps forward, it unfortunately falls far short of what families want and need in a school rating system,” Litt said. “California should be leading in creating the best school rating system in the country; instead, we are leaving way too many families behind. We hope that policymakers will listen to families and improve this system so that it works for all families, not some.”

• Q&A on California’s new school rating system that you can start using today

But school board President Steve Zimmer noted Tuesday night that some new systems take getting used to, and even the previous measurement, the Academic Performance Index, met with some resistance at first. He has yet to take a deep look at the new system but said, “As with any new accountability system, it’s going to take a while to have both teachers and parents and prospective parents fully understand the system.”

Zimmer said he supports a multiple ranking. “I’ve always supported multiple measures, and the more wholistic the information we can get the better. I’m really clear I want a system not based on high-stakes standardized tests, even if they’re better tests.”

Zimmer added, “I know it’s going to take a while to adjust to that system. But if it is a true multiple-measure system, ultimately it will be better for the children of California and the schools of California.”

School board member Mónica García said she thought the new system would take some getting used to by parents.

“I am proud of the state of California for being the leader in trying to change the way we look at schools,” García said. “People will have to adjust, there will be an adjustment period, but this offers a great deal of data for parents to make decisions, and that is most important. It is our duty to understand the data and measurements of growth.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Michelle King said she is excited about the dashboard and sees it as a way of getting parents more involved in the schools. “This new system improves transparency by providing information on both academic and non-academic factors that contribute to a child’s education.”

SchoolDashboardKing noted that parent input will help modify and change the dashboard. “By shifting the focus from what we’ve done to how we can improve, the dashboard will lead to real accountability and new opportunities to help our students succeed.”

Touted as an easy-to-understand report card, the dashboard replaces the Academic Performance Index (API) score that relied solely on standardized test scores. It was suspended three years ago.

The six measures now include academic indicators from English and math tests, suspension and graduation rates, basic services, parent engagement, and school climate. Chronic absenteeism and career/college readiness will be added in the next year.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said last week that one score for each site wasn’t a good indication of a school and insisted the new system is more relevant. “It will help in local decision-making by highlighting both the progress of schools and student groups, shining a light on disparities and helping stakeholders pinpoint where resources should be directed.”

He added, “It is important to understand that the California School Dashboard itself is a work in progress. It will be a far more valuable tool one year from now and three years from now than it is today as more indicators come online, as feedback is incorporated, and as improvements are made.”

The dashboard can be found at caschooldashboard.org.

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