New rating tool for public schools

Gian Carlo Baldonado, Staff Writer

For a decade and half, academic performance and growth of California schools was measured from a score of a low 200 to a high 1000 according to the Academic Performance Index (API).

School principals, realtors and parents depended on the API to gauge and compare K-12 public schools’ quality and performance across the state, but the accountability system drew criticism from parents and teachers who felt that a single number score for each school, heavily skewed on test scores, lacked other important information to assess school quality and development.

In 2014, the California Department of Education (CDE) abandoned the API as the state started to align its new standardized tests with the Common Core, according to a “Los Angeles Times” article “Introducing the California School Dashboard” by reporter Joy Resmovits.

On March 15, 2017, the CDE unveiled the API’s successor that promises to offer more than just one number: the California School Dashboard.

The California School Dashboard is currently being field tested — to be fully integrated in the third quarter of 2017 — but visitors can access some of schools’ performance records for the 2017 spring semester online.

According to the CDE’s website, instead of one overall number that dictates school success, the new accountability system entails multiple measures that are “based on factors [also known as state indicators] that contribute to a quality education…” including high school graduation rates, academic performance, suspension rate, English learner progress, college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism.

A CDE news release states that these indicators are reported in the Dashboard in two conditions: Status, “how each school or district fared last year,” and Change, “how much [schools or districts] have improved or declined in the last three years.”

Districts, schools and student groups with more than 30 students receive one of the following five color-coded performance levels for each state indicator: (in order of highest to lowest) blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

Bear Creek’s dashboard, under “All Students Performance,” displays blue for graduation rate, green for English learner progress, and orange for suspension rate.

“The reason that the graduation rate and English learner progress is so good [in] our school is because we’re highly diverse,” senior Nick Crawford said. “Nobody in this school ever feels put down because of a race, and [Bear Creek is] a highly promotive school for all minorities and everyone here.”
School profiling site Niche ranks Bear Creek the 33rd most diverse of 1,182 high schools in California. A poll by the same site asks students, “What one word or phrase best describes the typical student at this school?” and reports that 58 percent of 43 responses replied with “Pride in being a Bruin.”

With the Dashboard, clicking on a specific indicator –– for example, “graduation rate” — reveals a narrowed statistical breakdown of all students that belong in smaller groups like English learners, foster youth, homeless, socioeconomically disadvantaged, students with a disability and a list of races. Hence, a school may receive the color blue for an all-student increase of graduation rate, but a smaller group under the same indicator may receive the color orange for doing poorly.

“Looking at the statistics, it’s kind of shocking how the graduation rate is high [overall]….[but] African Americans and students with disabilities have the lowest graduation rate,” senior McKenzie Barrow said.

Under suspension rate, the performance level orange signifies that the increasing suspension rate of the school demands the most attention from the administrators.

Crawford believes that one plausible reason the suspension rate is high is that students have a higher tendency to promote violence in school through social media.

However, campus supervisor Cherie Pruitt said that more fights happen outside than within the school.

“As far as suspension rate’s relation to fightings, there are more fights that take place not within our school’s jurisdiction, meaning not in our time frame, [than fights that do take place during school]; this is probably because students know that there’s lesser chances of them getting suspended,” Pruitt said.

A little over 200 students make up the high 9.3% status of Bear Creek’s suspension rate, an increase of 1.2% from the last year’s data, according to the Status and Change report.

However, students are skeptical about these numbers and the overall accuracy of the Dashboard because of the ambiguous layout of the report.

“It has the word ‘Status’ and the word ‘High’ next to a percentage, but it doesn’t give you exactly what [the status] is,” senior Allison To said.
“They need to show hard numbers with context from the school,” senior Michael Barber said. “The format, layout and information are just confusing.”
Others, however, welcome the new rating system.

“Personally, I think it’s good that they’re taking a step up from the previous way they recorded and rated schools,” junior Keith Mandujan said.

“Although it’s not in-depth [and] it does not show context to where the numbers are going…if there is a continuation of support for a better method of recording graduation rates and suspension rates then they can improve on what they [currently] have.”

After all, the Dashboard is still under field test and many state indicators like chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, and school climate are still unavailable until the Dashboard’s full implementation.