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LA parents head to Sacramento for this week’s vote to plead for an overall rating to assess schools

Sarah Favot | September 6, 2016

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Proposed school report card (California Department of Education).


A contingent of LA parents, armed with a petition of about 420 signatures, will ask the state Board of Education this week to adopt a summative rating to evaluate schools in addition to a number of proposed measures that move beyond ranking schools solely based on test scores.

The Board of Education is expected to vote Thursday on its rubric that will be used to evaluate California public schools under the new federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act. The state must approve this evaluation by Oct. 1 to comply with federal law.

The new law is aimed at moving away from solely evaluating schools based on standardized test scores as has been done in public education from 2002 to 2015 under ESSA’s precursor No Child Left Behind. In California, all schools were given a ranking called an Academic Performance Index, or API, which was a number between 200 and 1,000.

Under the new federal law, which will go into effect in 2017-18, states must evaluate schools based on a number of “indicators” in addition to performance on state tests and growth over time.

After months of public comment, meetings and discussion, the state board has decided on several indicators that will be evaluated and compared over time. Those indicators will be finalized Thursday. The federal law requires that states use academic achievement, academic progress, graduation rate, progress on achieving English proficiency and school quality or student success.

The state has proposed using English language arts and math standardized test scores in grades 3 to 8, science test scores when available, an English learner indicator, high school graduation rates, suspension rates, chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, school climate, parent engagement and school conditions as part of its evaluation.   

But a number of parent activist groups and others are pushing the state board to adopt a summative rating for schools based on the chosen indicators and that without it, it will be difficult for families to compare schools or know how well their school is educating their students. They also point to the “sea of colors” on the proposed school report cards covering 17 categories, each of which is rated by one of five colors.

“In the absence of a summative rating for a school, it becomes very difficult for families to hold schools accountable for what happens within the walls,” said Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents push for better educational opportunities in their neighborhoods including using the “parent trigger” law to take over low-performing schools.

His group, as well as Families in Schools, Innovate Public Schools, Speak UP and Students for Education Reform have launched a petition asking the state Board of Education to adopt an overall rating system.

Litt said even though schools’ API scores haven’t been updated for two years, parents are still relying on them to evaluate a school because it’s something they can understand.

Litt said he is encouraged by some moves the board has made in choosing specific indicators, such as evaluating schools based on climate and how many students are being suspended.

“We just think the state board needs to finish the job and provide an overall summative rating,” he said.

A summative rating might be a number or a letter, or it could be a categorization of a school based on a color (green, yellow or red), or an assessment, such as low, improving, quality or excellent, Litt said. The group is not advocating for a return to the API score.

It doesn’t appear the state board will move in that direction, though, unless it is forced to do so by the federal government. Under its proposed regulations, the federal government is considering forcing states to give schools a summative rating.

In an Aug. 1 letter, California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson urged the U.S. Department of Education not to adopt a single summative rating saying it “undercuts the value of a multiple measures system.”

“A summative rating, in contrast, necessarily glosses over differences in performance across indicators and inappropriately draws school leaders, stakeholders and the public focus on the single rating rather than a more robust reflection of performance demonstrated by the individual indicators,” they wrote.

“Importantly, reducing a student group’s performance down to a single rating on all indicators could mask serious disparities that should be addressed for that student group, for example, English learners or students with disabilities.”

Parent Revolution, in addition to 13 other California education advocacy groups, like United Way, California Charter Schools Association, Students Matter and The Education Trust-West, submitted their own joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education supporting the proposed regulations.

“Providing a summative measure does not have to conflict with the multiple indicator approach that California has adopted and can build on it, to ensure that parents have a clear entry point to interact with the richer performance data and the state can clearly identify those LEAs and schools with wide achievement gaps and in need of extra attention,” the letter says.

The federal law requires that states provide help to the schools that are performing at the bottom 5 percent in the state. Litt said since the state will have to develop some kind of rating to determine which schools are lowest-performing, it should extend that rating to all of the schools.

He said if there are a variety of measures without a summative rating, parents will likely default to using test scores to determine how a school is doing.

Chris Hofmann, a fourth-grade teacher at KIPP Raices Academy in East LA, will also attend Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting. A Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum, Hofmann has been following the state’s process on its accountability system over the past several years.

He said he hopes the state board will clarify how they will identify schools that need additional support.

“At this current moment, it’s not necessarily very obvious what the clear next steps will be for how to address the problems highlighted,” Hofmann said.

“I still strongly believe that the most fundamental aspect of schooling is what students learn and how they grow,” he added. “My hope would be whatever system of intervention is adopted, it still strongly focuses on that aspect of schooling.”

The board must submit its plan by March.

*This article has been updated to explain that the summative rating being sought is not a single number.

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