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LAUSD moves to streamline how schools are rated, making it easier for parents to compare and evaluate them

Laura Greanias | March 28, 2018

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Los Angeles parents will get a simpler way to evaluate and compare schools, if a plan by three LA Unified school board members is passed next month that gives schools a single score or rating based primarily on student achievement and growth.

It’s been five years since the Academic Performance Index, which ranked California schools on test scores, was discontinued as the state developed its new school rating system, the California School Dashboard. But the color-coded grid has been criticized by parents and advocates as complicated and confusing.

Like the dashboard, Los Angeles’s new rating system would incorporate a range of inputs, but each LA school would end up with a single score.

The rank could be a number or a letter grade, said board Vice President Nick Melvoin, and there are benefits to both, “but we want this to be community driven. We don’t want to be too prescriptive as a board. We want to work with community groups rather than the board creating the system.”

The resolution, published Wednesday by LA Unified, will be introduced next Tuesday and voted on the following week at the April 10 board meeting. It is sponsored by board members Kelly Gonez, George McKenna, and Melvoin.

“As we’ve heard from parents at the board meeting public comments, they are asking, ‘How are you going to support our schools that need it the most?’” said Gonez, and this resolution “is making sure that important information gets into the hands of parents.”

Gonez called the resolution a “first step” to finding the “best way to help struggling schools and increase our transparency” as a district. “Before you can help, you need to know which schools are struggling and in which areas.”

The next step will be how to get those schools help. “The details will be worked out as part of the working group process,” Gonez said, including community feedback.

Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, which along with Teach Plus has given guidance to the state on the importance of an overall quality rating for schools, praised the LA board members’ move.

“The creation of a school report that provides the public with clear and comparable school information, including overall ratings, is an important step for Los Angeles,” Litt said. “With greater transparency and greater understanding of how our students are doing educators and families can work together to improve opportunities for students. It is also heartening to see LAUSD succeed where state leadership has failed, and listen to the voices of families who have been asking for clear information on their neighborhood schools for years.”

Melvoin, who has heard plenty of complaints about the state’s dashboard, said he hopes the state will follow Los Angeles’s lead. “The more nuanced and complicated the dashboard becomes, the less useful it is to parents,” he said.

“We are taking it upon ourselves to be a good example. Maybe the state will look at its largest school district and decide” to do the same. He said the board members have been studying how other school districts help parents assess and compare schools, including Denver and Indianapolis.

“I’m hoping we can do something that we don’t even see in other districts,” he said.

Significantly, Los Angeles’s rating system would also include “an interactive tool so parents can adjust the criteria for what they want for their own kids,” Melvoin said, “something that’s not being done elsewhere.” For instance, “If the system has 100 criteria, parents could rate priorities to get a summative rating.” So “let parents unlock the system and if they want to weight arts at 20 and sports a 5 and parent input at 7,” they can adjust how a school’s rating comes up. “This would be a way for schools that are focusing and improving certain areas … to show what they are doing well.”

Katie Braude, executive director of the grassroots parent organization Speak UP, said, “We are really excited this is happening. It’s a really great first step to getting all schools held to the same standards and understanding how schools and students are performing. It gives parents an opportunity to make good choices.”

A school report card could “shine a light on things we don’t have any information on at all,” Braude said, such as “looking at teaching staff, how long teachers have been at a school, how frequently they are evaluated, how many substitutes a school has for a year, how many must-place teachers are on staff. All of that can be highlighted but not necessarily be part of the performance grade.”

She added, “I think parents will be really excited to see how their schools are are performing compared to their neighbors’ schools. There’s just no good information available right now, and the state isn’t providing that.”

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