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Anatomy of school success and failure: Inside CORE’s accountability system

Craig Clough | April 18, 2016

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COREWhen LA Unified and five other school districts unveiled a new school accountability system in February, it represented California’s first significant move toward incorporating more than just test scores while also valuing how well the neediest students are performing.

The School Quality Improvement Index, which was developed by the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), is a significant jump away from the Academic Performance Index (API), which was discontinued after 2013 as the state transitioned to the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced tests, which debuted last year.

To understand CORE more, LA School Report recently calculated the scores of all 714 LA Unified schools entered into the system and ranked them. (Charter schools are not included in the CORE data, but there are other ways to measure their performance.) Sixty percent of a school’s CORE score is based on academic performance, which includes performance on the Smarter Balanced tests as well as the graduation rate for high schools and high school readiness for middle schools. Forty percent is based on “socio-emotional/culture-climate” factors like suspension and absenteeism.

Every category that CORE takes into account gets a value of 1 through 10 or 1 through 30, and these different values add up to an overall score of 1 through 100, with 100 being the top score. The average score of all 714 LA Unified schools entered into CORE was 60. But the CORE scores aren’t a direct calculation of a school’s overall score in the smaller categories; they employ a complicated formula that also considers how high-needs students performed.

These high-needs students are broken into four subgroups: the lowest performing racial/ethnic subgroup, English learners, students with disabilities and socio-economically disadvantaged students. Giving true weight to how these students perform, and rewarding schools that excel in educating them, is a far cry from API, in which a school with few high-needs students was ranked on an equal plane against those with many high-needs students.

• Read LA School Report’s analysis of CORE data for LAUSD schools.

• Read more on why the CORE system was developed and why it is only temporary.

The state of California is currently developing its own system that will also move beyond just test scores and likely take into consideration high-needs students and other data like suspension rates.

The new federal education law passed last year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), calls on states to develop accountability systems with criteria like this in mind. California’s own Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) law, signed in 2013, requires school districts to provide extra funding for high-needs students.

California’s eventual accountability system may use a different formula and lack a simple numerical ranking system in favor of a more “dashboard” approach with multiple rankings, but it must be in alignment with ESSA and will end up using much of the same criteria that CORE looks at, making CORE the first view of what such a system might look like, or at least how this new data can impact a school’s performance.

When Gov. Jerry Brown was pitching the LCFF to lawmakers in 2013, he said, “Growing up in Compton or Richmond is not like it is to grow up in Los Gatos or Beverly Hills or Piedmont. It is controversial, but it is right, and it’s fair.”

Brown could have just as easily been talking about the CORE system, as for the first time it is an accountability system that takes into consideration the extra challenges high-needs students face while rewarding schools that are able to overcome these challenges. As a result, a school with the highest test scores is not necessarily the highest scoring school on the CORE index.

Former LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who stepped down in January, voiced his support for CORE’s approach, saying in December, “We have known for a long time that academic performance is one of many factors that make a great school, but CORE districts are now serving as a model for how we can actually measure these factors and look more holistically at school outcomes.”

Coming this week: A look at the top and bottom elementary, middle and high schools in LA Unified.

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