California’s vast public education system is in the midst of an exciting renaissance. The changes we have seen in just the past five years have been resounding. These major shifts have raised the bar for student learning, transformed testing and put an emphasis on equity.
In 2012, voters approved taxes that have helped put schools on better financial footing after years of disinvestment in education due to California’s economic woes. A year later, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was enacted, which significantly changed how schools are funded, allowing for more discretion at the school district level over how money is spent. Simultaneously, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) became a requirement to ensure funding allocations are spent in a careful, focused manner for the benefit of all students.
Meanwhile, California adopted a more rigorous set of state academic standards, designed to better prepare our young minds for college and career. With new standards came new assessments. Gone are the paper and pencil tests of old. Today, assessments are all done online. Results are available more quickly and provide more meaningful data. This helps shape instruction and allows for interventions to be put into place earlier for students who need them.
California is now leading the nation in developing a system for evaluating schools and districts that will include multiple measures of student success once it is fully realized. The new California School Dashboard (www.caschooldashboard.org), which rolled out this week in a limited test phase, is essentially a “report card” that will ultimately give parents, educators and community members a clearer picture of school achievement and growth — that is, how our schools are doing today and how they have improved over time.
The Dashboard replaces the antiquated Academic Progress Index (API) that relied exclusively on state standardized test scores to determine the success of our schools. Publishing the results of one test taken on a particular day did little to show the big picture of how our schools were really doing.
While the Dashboard will not be fully populated with data for every indicator during the initial launch, the system provides a solid foundation from which to grow. Once fully implemented, the Dashboard will provide a robust and meaningful snapshot of a host of school success indicators including high school graduation rates, career and college readiness, English learner progress, suspension rates, chronic absence rates and general school climate, while still looking at test scores.
It has been likened to driving a car. It would be unsafe to drive while only watching the speedometer. You must also keep your eye on the road, check the mirrors, monitor the gas tank and pay attention if the engine light comes on. Over time, the Dashboard will provide that level of detailed perspective.
Equity is at the heart of the new accountability system. The Dashboard will highlight disparities among student groups, which will help pinpoint specific areas in need of targeted assistance. Student group performance and progress will be used to identify schools and districts needing additional support. Schools that do not improve over time will be identified as eligible for assistance from the state. Conversely, those schools that are excelling will be looked upon to share their methods and best practices.
California’s future success depends on preparing every student at every school to meet the challenges of tomorrow. I strongly believe that we are on the right trajectory and that the changes we have seen in recent years are moving schools toward ensuring that every student at every school graduates prepared for college, career and life. The addition of the California School Dashboard will be another boon for transparency and continuous improvement for our public schools.