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6 things to know about LAUSD’s new school accountability system

Craig Clough | February 4, 2016

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raising-hands-in-classroom accountabilityA group of six California school districts, including LA Unified, this week unveiled a new school accountability system that represents a far more complex and intricate way of ranking schools.

Simply put, it is not all about standardized test scores anymore, and the school with the highest scores may no longer be the highest ranked school under the new system.

Education leaders in the state and nation will be keeping a close eye on how the new system is received, as it is the first one to be created that fits the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Under ESSA, each state is required to implement a set of high-quality student academic assessments, and the developers of the California districts’ system said they hope it becomes a national model.

Here are six things you need to know about the new School Quality Improvement Index.

What is the School Quality Improvement Index?

The index was developed by LAUSD and five other districts — known together as the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) — as part of a deal with the federal government. (Technically there are nine districts in CORE, but for various reasons only six are participating in the new index system.)

The districts banded together for the purpose of getting a much-desired waiver in 2013 from the stringent mandates of the No Child Left Behind law, and part of the waiver required them to develop a comprehensive way of evaluating and ranking schools. CORE became the first non-state to get a waiver.

In CORE’s new system, a school with high test scores won’t necessarily be ranked the highest, like it was with California’s Academic Performance Index (API), which was discontinued in 2013 to give the state time to transfer over new Common Core-aligned standardized tests and develop a new accountability system. The state and LAUSD have operated without any annual accountability system since then.

“[The index] gives schools the ability to take a more complex, comprehensive look at what is going on in their school,” said John McDonald, a consultant to CORE. “And now you have schools that traditionally, if you were just looking at API, may have been at the very bottom. When you look at this index, those schools may not be in that bottom because you are looking at different indicators.”

So if the system is not only about test scores, what is it about?

While test scores still play a role, the CORE index also includes other factors that were not previously considered, like graduation rates, attendance rates, suspension rates and the performance of English learners. It will even include “social-emotional and culture-climate” factors that will come from student surveys. Overall, 60 percent of a school’s score is based on academics; the social-emotional and culture-climate factors account for 40 percent. The surveys are not yet part of the scoring system as they won’t be given until this fall, but everything else is currently part of the scoring system.

How do I find out my school’s score, and how is that score reached? 

Click here and search schools by name. The overall score is on the last page of each school’s report. The list includes 723 LAUSD schools, including traditional schools and affiliated charters but not independent charters. It also doesn’t include adult, continuation or special education schools.

The new index ranking system is user-friendly. Each subcategory is given a score of 1 though 10, and those scores are averaged out to give each school an overall single score of 1 through 100, with 100 being the top score.

For example, Harbor Teacher Prep Academy in Wilmington received a 100 out of 100 score. Panorama City Elementary received a 32, and Jefferson High in South LA received a 43.

Can I compare a school’s score to the district average to get some perspective? 

You can, but not without a calculator and several hours of your time. As of now, CORE is not providing any districtwide statistics, so the only way to know the average score of LAUSD’s schools is to add them all up and divide for the average. CORE will work to develop districtwide statistics to be available within the next year, according to Rick Miller, executive director of CORE.

Is the system here to stay?

No, it is not. Under ESSA, states are required by the 2017-18 school year to develop a new multi-layered accountability system that the CORE districts must also follow.

The new state system will be used by both the state and the feds, Miller said. Previously, the state used standardized test scores under API to rank schools while the feds used the Adequate Yearly Progress.

If the system is only temporary, what was the point in developing it?

For one, it was not clear in 2013 when Congress was going to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law, as the issue had been debated for years without much progress.

“There was no conventional wisdom that Congress would get its act together,” Miller said.

Also, since the CORE system satisfies the parameters of ESSA, it is possible the state will base its new system on CORE’s. Miller said that is the hope, and part of the motivation to develop the new index was to try to show the state what a comprehensive system could look like.

“We always knew it would be temporary and that the waiver would go away, so it was intended to be, ‘Here’s a model for the state and nation to think about as they look at multiple measures,'” Miller said.

But Miller said he is skeptical it can happen because the state does not have the ability to gather as much detailed data as CORE does.

“The concern we have is that the state won’t do this because they simply don’t have the data, they have very limited data at the state level. and so they are forced to do basic accountability based on the data they collect,” Miller said.

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