Critics at state board meeting say school dashboard missing the mark
California’s uneven efforts towards educational equity for all student groups was at the center of January’s State Board of Education meeting. At issue were two competing systems for measuring progress and identifying groups in need of help.
In December, the U.S. Department of Education sent feedback on California’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan that said the state needed to provide more information on how it met the ESSA requirement that schools in need of assistance be identified. Federal law also requires states to develop an improvement plan for the lowest performing 5 percent of schools.

At the January SBE meeting, board members instead said they would provide the federal government with more information on how the state’s new accountability system, the California School Dashboard, works to “clarify the issues raised.” The system tracks progress by school districts. Board members also stressed more patience as the Dashboard continues to evolve.

Similar to the goals in ESSA, the color-coded California School Dashboard measures district efforts to lower the achievement gap in a number of areas including test scores, graduation rates, suspensions and English learner proficiency. Districts underperforming (indicated by the color red) in at least two areas are then targeted for assistance from county offices of education. Districts also must commit to helping low-performing groups as a part of their Local Control and Accountability Plan.

However, since its launch last spring, the California School Dashboard has drawn criticism from several California educational organizations. One concern is its intended audience, as many allege the Dashboard is not user-friendly for families looking to better understand a school’s performance or compare it with another. At the same time, the information provided has been found to be too general to be helpful for school districts who still need to rely on additional local data to identify where to target improvements. Another criticism involves the way that the latest data on test scores was incorporated into the Dashboard.

In a commentary published in January in EdSource and printed on page 4 in this newsletter, CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy and Education Trust–West Executive Director Ryan J. Smith joined other groups in questioning the usefulness of the metrics used to assign color categories in the California School Dashboard.

In its own analysis, EdSource concluded that 561 districts with large gaps in achievement between African-American, Latino and low-income students and their white and Asian peers would miss out on state help under the California School Dashboard system. That system identifies 228 districts for assistance that have been designated as underperforming (colored red) in at least two categories. But those cited by EdSource miss out due to low-performance in only one category.

How these issues will be resolved at the federal and state level is still undetermined. For now, SBE members — who have expressed concern about confusion that could be caused by having separate federal and state accountability systems — said they will revisit the issue and consider possible changes after the March SBE meeting. As part of this, board members also deleted language from the ESSA plan summarizing its methodology for choosing the bottom 5 percent of schools for performance and is reconsidering its criteria.

SBE member Ting Sun said, “Let’s trust our system — let’s just trust what we’ve designed might actually work well and identify schools that need to be identified.”