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Long Beach schools chief: Want to get to know our schools better? Academic growth data is a very good place to start

Chris Steinhauser | November 4, 2019

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Credit: Long Beach Unified on Twitter

Los Angeles Unified leaders were right to abandon plans for a single rating system for schools, which would have been a giant step backwards for school performance transparency. Those same decision makers should double down by making Los Angeles school academic growth data available to schools and parents.

The state of California has made significant strides in both its use of multiple measures of student achievement to evaluate schools, and in its presentation of a public data dashboard. Unfortunately, while the dashboard highlights how many students are performing at grade level, it does not provide a clear way to know the impact each school is having on improving their students’ academic outcomes. Luckily, Los Angeles Unified has the opportunity to fill that void by sharing student growth information.

Too often, school data websites confuse year-end cohort change for growth. The problem is, change can be very misleading. An example would be if a middle school consistently moved students from the 30th to the 50th percentile in mathematics in 6th grade, from the 50th to the 70th percentile in the 7th grade and the 70th to the 90th percentile in 8th grade. That school would be stagnant in terms of change, but in fact would be achieving phenomenal results in improving student math outcomes. Growth data shows these results. It helps us learn more about our schools by comparing the progress of students throughout the state who are similar, accounting for where they begin their year academically, and setting targets for where they should end up. In doing so, growth data helps identify schools where students are learning significantly faster or slower than their academic peers.

Forty-eight states already use academic growth data to help answer two fundamental questions: Where are public education dollars having the biggest impact on student learning, and what can we learn from these teachers and schools? Long Beach uses growth data to celebrate school progress, showcase replicable practices, guide coaching support and learn from teachers making exceptional progress overall and with targeted student populations.

All high-growth schools in Long Beach are publicly recognized and rewarded for both yearly and consecutive years of above-average growth. In November, these schools will celebrate their amazing progress and share their best practices with other principals and teacher leaders throughout our district.

As a form of support and intervention, district curricular coaches were assigned to school sites based on the strategic analysis of student academic growth and achievement data. Finally, principal supervisors and curriculum leaders visited high-growth classrooms in order to replicate effective practice for all students and, in particular, to learn directly from teachers on how to best meet the needs of our African-American and emerging bilingual students. Growth data is incredibly reassuring to educators working hard to change trajectories for the large number of students in our district who are not yet meeting our rigorous academic standards but are continuing to make steady gains in their learning.

We also ensure transparency in our spending decisions by purposely putting school reports that include growth data in front of parents and educators. We ask them to consider this data as they make recommendations about maximizing educational dollars for their school’s unique programs and services. Equipped with relevant growth data and other information, parents can and do help us make informed decisions.

California remains one of only two states (Kansas is the other) that does not make growth data publicly available, and no remedy of this deficiency on the state’s K-12 data dashboard is anticipated any time soon. Meanwhile we continue to put growth data to good public use in Long Beach. To move continuous improvement forward in Southern California, Los Angeles school district leaders should do the same. For Los Angeles parents and educators seeking to learn more about their schools, getting access to growth data from their local district is the best answer.

Christopher Steinhauser is the superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District and he serves as president of the CORE Districts, which includes Long Beach, Los Angeles, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento unified school districts.

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