California's New School Dashboard

by Jeff Camp | February 18, 2017 | 0 Comments
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Image: Deciphering your dashboard CC Robert Couse Baker

New and Important

Part One in a series

March 15, 2017 marked the first day of operation for a new way of looking at success for schools and school districts: The "California School Dashboard."

The Dashboard is NOT a single grade or rating. Instead, it is a collection of "indicators" -- a bit like the dashboard of a car. On most car dashboards, a light turns on when there might be a problem. To find out more, you have to look into it. Sometimes you have to pop the hood and pull out the owner's manual because, well, cars are complicated. So are schools.

What does it do?

The Dashboard summarizes how well your school is doing in multiple ways, which we explore in this series of posts. The Dashboard is useful for school district leaders, school board members, and PTA leaders because it can help spot patterns not just within individual schools, but across groups of schools. It also provides some information about whether conditions are improving or not.

Let's start with some basics.

The Dashboard uses color-coded performance indicators in five levels. Some colors are more common than others, but which ones are more most common varies by indicator. The labels below are unofficial. Officially they are just colors, period.)

Not every indicator on the Dashboard will use all the colors. But you get the idea:

  • Red is bad. It demands attention. It's also relatively uncommon.
  • Orange is bad, but better than red.
  • Yellow isn't good news, but it's not bad, either. For most indicators (especially math and English) it is a wide performance band that can cover a lot of cases. Expect to see a lot of it.
  • Green indicates good news.
  • Blue is "cool." It's extra good. Even better than green.

In Dashboard reports, icons accompany the five colors. This allows reports to be printed in black and white. Even if you can't see the color, you will know the performance level by the shapes, which will become familiar with use. They look like this:

The indicators on the dashboard are meant to direct attention where it might be needed, so that you will take a closer look and figure out what to do about it.

Why the California School Dashboard Exists

From the outside, it's hard to know what's going on within districts and schools. But parents need trustworthy information about schools to make good choices for their kids. Voters want good information to know that schools are working. School leaders need information to help them improve.

Until 2014, California schools were rated using a single score, the Academic Performance Index (API), based exclusively on test scores. The API system is gone. In its place, the Dashboard provides multiple indicators of school performance and improvement. These indicators are designed to provide information related to the eight priorities that school districts must address in their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).

Key Dashboard Concept: Performance

Several of the indicators share an important similarity: they are meant to show "Performance" rather than just their current status. What's the difference?

Performance is Status adjusted for Change

"Performance" blends how things are ("status") with how they are changing. For example, an average graduation rate maintained over several years results in a typical (yellow) performance report. A very high graduation rate that sharply decreases to average shows a more troubling performance report. When the dashboard draws your attention, it's an invitation to dig deeper.


Digging deeper often means looking beyond simple averages. The Dashboard can present a big-picture summary of performance in schools and districts... but it often makes sense to focus on "subgroups" to make sure all students are getting the attention and support they need.

For example, schools often look at test scores by grade level, gender, ethnicity, and parents' economic status. School districts need to know if they are successfully educating students in foster care, or learning English, or with special education needs. The Dashboard can show these views.

Under Construction

The California School Dashboard is a work in progress, and will probably suffer the usual technical difficulties. It appears that additional sources and tools will exist alongside the official Dashboard, such as EdSource's lightning-fast page to view summary-level performance data and the Department of Education's useful 5x5 system, described in post #5 of this series. These are complex systems, so we're serving our description in courses. This one was your appetizer.

Mary Perry and Carol Kocivar contributed to this post.
Updated Feb 18, 2017 to further simplify the explanation.
Updated Mar 15, 2017 to change the post to present tense where needed and add graphics.
Updated Mar 15, 2017 to add link to EdSource database tool.
Updated Mar 20, 2017 to replace outdated video.

This post is part of a series about the California School Dashboard:
1 - Overview
2 - The Indicators
3 - Performance colors
4 - Math and English
5 - English Learners

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