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LAUSD has a chance to help city’s students and teachers by releasing growth data

Jeimee Estrada | November 4, 2019

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Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has the opportunity to give families and teachers a powerful tool to transform our kids’ education by publicly releasing growth data. They’ve already crunched the numbers. Fresno, Oakland and Long Beach school districts have released it publicly and California is one of only two states that doesn’t release it.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

But right now, a few powerful stakeholders are holding this because they think people will focus on the lack of growth, rather than progress. But if we’re not open about the challenges we’re facing, how likely will we be to solve them?

What people might not know is that teachers consider growth data so valuable that 74% of them rate it the best way to evaluate schools.

To illustrate why, I’d like to share a perspective from a 5th grade teacher, and self-proclaimed “data junkie” we’ll call Alicia who has been teaching for 13 years, most recently at an LAUSD elementary school in Southeast.

Growth Data is Centered on Students

As Alicia puts it, “If we look at every child as a unique individual, we should be looking at growth data.” At the start of each school year, Alicia has a new class of 25 unique little people. On her own initiative, she navigates the various unwieldy databases to pull as much data as she can to learn where each student is at in their academic journey. Based on that, she sets her goals for her classroom. Last year, she hit her goal of getting 60% of her students up to grade-level in English. This year, her equally ambitious goal is 40% because many of her 5th grade students came in at a 3rd grade reading level.

While Alicia is working from her kids up, the goals for LAUSD, the local district and her school are set from the top down and they are based on something else entirely – comparing last year’s test scores with this year’s. Grades 3-5 for her school are supposed to have their average scores go up 10% year over year – just like last year. Rather than comparing how much Jaden learned from 4th grade to 5th grade, the scores are comparing how Jaden and his classmates did in 5th grade vs. a totally different group of kids in the previous year.

Every year, I spend lots of time getting the data I need and helping my colleagues do the same. Making growth data transparent would not only save me hours I can rededicate to serving your kids, but also allow me to tailor my lessons to my students’ individual strengths and growth areas.

An Accurate Picture of Progress

Growth data is especially critical in a district like LAUSD where huge numbers of students start the school year behind grade-level. And where huge opportunity gaps mean far too many of these students and others aren’t getting the support to reach their full potential.

Every year, Alicia grows a majority of her kids more than one grade-level. But every class is different, and this year’s class came in far behind the one before. And while most of them made huge leaps in her classroom, they still largely performed below the fifth grade proficiency on their tests. A district administrator looking at the limited data available for her class would simply see test scores for her students being worse this year than last year, even though she actually moved even more of her students even farther ahead in their learning.

My school is full of really devoted loving teachers who feel undervalued when we get these mandates from above that don’t make sense. I had kids who grew two years in learning, but didn’t pass the state test. So that means we’re unsuccessful? There’s so much emphasis on the state test that it takes away from authentic teaching, learning and growth. My hard work and my students’ hard work isn’t reflected.

Getting Better Together

It’s important to know if just 12% of students at a school are on grade-level in math. It tells you where a school is. But it doesn’t tell you where it’s going. Growth data fills in important gaps: Are students starting behind, but making huge gains over the year? Or are they coming in at grade-level and slipping behind?

Parents have even less data to work with. Most have to rely on ratings based on test scores – all that’s available. What’s impossible to know is if that rating more strongly reflects the challenges that students face outside school or what’s happening in terms of instruction within the classrooms. If growth data is available to everyone, parents and teachers can better work together to make informed decisions about their students’ education.

LAUSD has already gathered and run the data. Now they have the opportunity to communicate the true work Los Angeles’ teachers and our students are doing, particularly those in communities with the most challenges outside of the school. Moreover, this prevents teachers like Alicia and so many like her that want to use the data to find the schools that are bearing the odds, and learn from them.

As a high school teacher in San Jose, I had the same frustrations and experiences that Alicia describes with the huge mismatch between the data available and what our school and families wanted and needed to work together to improve.

Tuesday, I hope that the board makes the courageous and crucial decision to allow teachers to see their students’ growth data and to release this data to the public.

And I hope that the state of California won’t be far behind.

Jeimee Estrada is the Executive Director of Educators for Excellence (E4E), Los Angeles, which represents 6,000 classroom teachers in LA who are committed to advancing equity in their classrooms, schools and the community.

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