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Lesson 9.7

Making the Grade:
Measuring School Performance

How can you tell if a school is good? First, look here…

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Is your school successful at educating the children it serves? It’s hard enough to answer when your concern is your own child's school, since it goes against human nature to be objective about it. The question is difficult in a different way when expanded. How can you help your local school or district strengthen its programs and improve student outcomes for all children in your community? That is the charge California’s state leaders have given to all of us through the Local Control Funding Formula, which established that schools must be accountable to their local community.

Getting the Facts

The measure of a "good school" has changed.

Before you can grade the current performance of your local schools, it helps to gather some vital statistics about them. A great first stop is the Ed-Data Partnership website. Look up your school or district. These reports describe officially reported data about the students, the teachers, and much more. Accountability reports will tell you about the school’s performance on a variety of measures.

School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) provide similar information and are usually found on a school district’s website. The Department of Education hosts a page that aspires to provide links to local schools’ SARCs.

A bit of history is in order. For many years, state and federal definitions of success differed from one another.

State: For over a decade, California’s measure of school success was the Academic Performance Index (API). Defined by law, the API blended a variety of success indicators for each California public school and school district in order to generate a single score, sort of like a grade point average. Theoretically, this index number made high-level comparisons possible. The API was also used to measure a school’s “growth” from year to year, and to compare that growth to a desired target for improvement. 2012-13 was the last year for which schools received an API. In 2015, the State Board of Education called for the elimination of the API system.

Federal: For many years, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) made the federal government’s grades particularly important. Reported as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), they measured schools and districts based on improvement in students' scores on state-administered tests, emphasizing improvement in the scores of subgroups of students. The goal was for “every student subgroup in every school in America to demonstrate academic proficiency” by 2014. As the deadline approached, the impossibility of reaching the goal became increasingly clear, and AYP lost much of its meaning. (For more on this topic see Lesson 7.2.)

Grading Schools

Using a single "grade" to measure a school's performance under the API system masked a lot of variation. Still, API scores could begin to tell you something about a school. To comply with requirements of No Child Left Behind, schools calculated multiple API scores for student subgroups within a school. Changes in a school’s API scores over time provided evidence of improvement. Knowing a school's performance decile -- plus its rank compared to similar schools -- provided important perspective that could equip parents and teachers with useful questions. (What is the other "similar" school doing differently?)

What comes after the API? Getting to Green

After a gazillion hours of testimony, the California State Board of Education approved a broad set of new indicators in 2016. In addition to scores on standardized tests in English and math, schools will report measures of students’ college and career readiness, the proficiency of English learners, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates and school climate, basic conditions at a school, implementation of academic standards, and parent engagement.

How is that going to look? As of this writing (July 2016), the Board was still working out the details. The graphic below, using red, yellow and green, with green being the highest level of achievement, is a prototype (DOC file).

Prototype report design from the California State Board of Education, July 2016 Prototype report design from the California State Board of Education, July 2016

The state board expressed its intention to adopt evaluation rubrics in September 2016. An equity report will highlight the progress of student subgroups and signal the need for support and intervention.

What Comes After Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)?

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, each school was obligated to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) toward proficiency for all students based on test scores. The Every Student Succeeds Act (which Congress approved in December 2015 to replace NCLB) eliminated the AYP system. Its goals harmonize with California's move toward broader measures of success. Here are the school site new indicators:

  • Student scores on annual assessments in math and reading/language arts. (High schools can include student "growth" (change in test scores) in addition to test scores themselves.)
  • Elementary and middle schools can measure student growth or another valid and reliable statewide academic indicator.
  • Graduation rates (high school)
  • English language proficiency
  • One indicator of school quality or student success that allows for meaningful differentiation of school performance that is used statewide and is valid, reliable, and comparable.

Student test scores continue to play a major role. But note that student growth, support for English language learners, and a measure of school quality are now on the list. Overall, ESSA is less prescriptive than NCLB. The definition of educational progress has broadened, and the focus of accountability has shifted from federally-defined requirements and sanctions to state and locally-defined requirements.

Review

When comparing schools' success, which of the following is NOT relevant?

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