How the Dashboard Gets Its Colors

by Jeff Camp | March 1, 2017 | 0 Comments
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Image: Regenbogen-Tauben CC Bernd Sieker

The Colors of the Dashboard

Part Three in a Series

The California School Dashboard, which debuted in early 2017, is the state's primary way of summarizing and communicating the "performance" of schools, districts, and groups of students. Broadly, the indicators on the Dashboard represent two things: current results ("status") such as test scores or other measures; and progress or the lack of it ("change"). As mentioned in prior posts in this series, the California State Board of Education has established "cut points" for both status and change to define levels of performance.

How does that actually work?

The 5 by 5 Reference Chart

We'll take this step by step.

In order to assess a performance color, imagine that each indicator on the Dashboard begins by stacking the five levels of status vertically. Red (poor results, or "very low" status) goes on the bottom. Blue (great results, or "very high" status) stands on the top. The dividing lines between the colors are the Board's "cut points."

Red is low. Blue is high.

Each indicator also orders the five levels of change. Backward progress or weak progress goes on the left. Rapid improvement goes on the right.

Red on the left. Blue on the right.

Combining the two (status and change) produces a five-by-five table. The performance colors on the diagonal are obvious: Great results and great improvement clearly call for cool blue in the upper right corner. Very low results that are getting much worse clearly call for a red alert in the lower left corner. Orange, yellow and green fall in line diagonally, like this:

The status and change colors align diagonally

Which performance color should be assigned to each of the other cells on the table? That's a matter of judgment. For each indicator, the California State Board of Education has defined a "5 by 5 reference chart." Generally, they look something like this:

The State Board of Education defines the 5x5 reference chart

The horizontal lines in the table above represent cut points in status. The vertical ones represent cut points in change. The State Board unveiled 5x5 reference charts for several performance indicators in February 2017 to define those cut points. In the following posts we will explore these indicators and how you might want to use them.

Although the boxes in the grid above appear to be the same size, it's worth knowing that some performance levels are more common than others. The distribution varies by indicator. For example, yellow is by far the most common performance level for the English and Mathematics indicators, but blue is the most common for high school graduation. Using 2016 data, EdSource calculated the percentage of schools in each performance category for five indicators, summarized in the table below. (Note that the table is reversed, with blue performance on the left and red on the right.)

In-depth documentation of the California School Dashboard is available from the California Department of Education, including information about the district-level distribution of status and change levels for each indicator.

Mary Perry and Carol Kocivar contributed to this post.
This post was updated March 19, 2017 to include the EdSource analysis of the percentage of schools in each performance category.

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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