Non-academic data included in new schools evaluation tool

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On Wednesday, state education officials unveiled the California School Dashboard. The new online tool is meant to show the public how schools are doing through academic data, such as math and English test scores.

The tool also included data that doesn’t come directly from student academic achievement.

“The California School Dashboard is a resource unlike anything we’ve ever had before,” said State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson in a written statement. “I think of it as a high-tech report card for our schools. 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.”

Those non-academic measurements include student suspension rates. State officials included these indicators to show the public student data and the effect of policy on the data over time.

“It’s a level of accountability, but I think it’s also an opportunity for the district to drill down on those areas where there’s a need,” said Christopher Lund, assistant superintendent at the Long Beach Unified School District.

A look on the Dashboard now shows suspension rates on a five by five grid that charts their rise or fall. The grid uses blue, green, yellow, orange, and red to show drops or increases.

“The color coding provides a simple way of recognizing areas of strength and areas of concern,” Lund said.

Long Beach Unified has significant numbers of schools at which suspensions are increasing and others where they’re dropping.

Chronic absenteeism will be on the dashboard next year. That’s the rate of students who’ve been absent for ten percent or more of a school year. Educators believe strongly that absences hurt teaching and learning.

“Well, it puts a lot of stress on the student because when they come back to school and they’ve been out a lot they have to catch up and teachers will have to work more closely and give them extra help because they weren’t in class so it creates a challenge,” said Kelly Iwamoto, a fourth grade teacher in Inglewood.

The Dashboard replaces the Academic Performance Index, a statewide measure that was designed incorporate several indicators into one number. The index scores issued yearly relied solely on math and English test scores.

“The problem with looking at one number, it doesn’t give you a sense of, 'how are we doing on graduation rates, how do we do on drop out rates, how do we do on, this one here, suspension,'” said San Gabriel Unified Superintendent John Pappalardo.

He likes that there are multiple indicators in the new Dashboard, but the format and design unveiled on Wednesday is confusing, he said, and will take some time to explain to the public.

“I imagine that there could be something in between one number and our current Dashboard model which has colors and pie charts and five different areas to look at,” Pappalardo said.