California launches new school, district accountability system


On Wednesday, the California Department of Education officially released its newest performance measurement and accountability tool, the California School Dashboard.

The new online portal, found at, uses a color-coded system of charts and graphics to create a comprehensive look at school performance based on multiple criteria, including suspension rates, graduation rates, college and career readiness, chronic absenteeism, English learner (EL) progress and performance on standardized tests in English language arts and mathematics.

With the California School Dashboard, parents and districts can focus on several factors that serve the needs of different student groups and contribute to a comprehensive education.

An example of the California School Dashboard.

“Our students, our schools and our districts will benefit by having so much readily available information about the performance of schools and districts in the elements needed to create a successful, positive learning environment,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

The dashboard replaces the Academic Performance Index (API) which gave schools a single number rating, between 200 and 1,000, based on test scores.

Although the state’s use of the API scores ended in 2014 with the creation of the standardized Common Core tests, critics of the system said it was misleading and did not include enough factors to evaluate student success.

Based on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) passed in 2013, the dashboard uses six state performance areas and four local performance areas to focus on transparency, student equity and continuous improvement.

Currently in its testing phase, the system combines current status and change over time to give schools and district a color rating and pieces within a pie chart.

The colors range from blue—the best—to green, yellow, orange and red—the worst—and correlate with five pieces within a pie chart.

“Just as our children receive report cards with multiple grades in multiple subject areas, the California School Dashboard provides us with many different measures of a school’s performance — where it’s strong, where it needs to improve, how it’s doing over time,” Torlakson said.

Local Dashboard Applications

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the response from school districts to the new accountability system was generally positive.

“These ten indicators are tied directly to our funding formula and will give us guidance on how best to use our funds for student performance,” said Vicki Engbrecht, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union School District in a statement. “It is a billboard on how our district, school and student groups are performing.”

Engbrecht said the dashboard will allow the Hart District to identify learning gaps among students groups and to have open dialogues with the community to improve student performance.

In its first reports, the Hart District received a blue rating for its graduation rate, a green rating for its suspension rate, English language arts assessments and mathematics assessments, and a yellow rating for its English learner progress.

The sentiment toward the California School Dashboard was the same within the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) where officials plan on using the dashboard’s data to make informed decisions about instruction.

Isa De Armas, SUSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction said the online portal provides the district with data to celebrate progress over time, learn from areas of growth and determine areas that need improvement.

“It’s a wonderful solution for all of our students,” De Armas said.  “That one single score [API] didn’t provide us with in-depth information.  The new California School Dashboard goes beyond the test scores and goes into different elements and metrics to look at the whole child and not just one aspect.”

SUSD already shared information about the dashboard’s metrics and data during the district’s regular Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meetings.

“I think our parents are excited about it,” De Armas said.

For Spring 2017, SUSD received a blue rating for suspension rate and a green rating for English learner progress and performance on English language arts and mathematics assessments.

In the Newhall School District, Superintendent Paul Cordeiro said the dashboard provides another way of understand the district’s overall performance and student group’s performance.

“We’ve always worked very hard at being accountable and using information we get from the state and welcome the new data,” he said.  “Our method is always to use the statewide data and determine what we are doing well and what we need to approve.”

Cordeiro noted that it might take some time to educate the public on the inner-workings of the accountability tool and how it differs from the API scores.

“A big change is not just looking at metric status, but change over time and that will take some public education,” he said.

For its first results, the Newhall District received a blue rating for performance on English language arts and mathematics assessments, a green rating for suspension rates and a yellow rating for English learner progress.

Castaic Union School District (CUSD) Superintendent Steve Doyle said the district was happy the California School Dashboard was finally released to the public.

“I think it is a great thing because it gives the public view different form just a single API number,” Doyle said.  “It gives a variety of different measures to measure our performance.”

The accountability tool gives the district the opportunity to explain its LCFF funding within student groups and evaluate areas that need improvement.

For Spring 2017, CUSD received a green rating for performance on English language arts and mathematics assessments, a yellow rating for suspension rate and an orange rating for English learner progress.

The Sulphur Springs Union School District received a green rating for its suspension rate and for performance on English language arts assessments, and a yellow rating for English learner progress and performance on mathematics assessments.

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