California School Dashboard Revealed for the First Time in Two Years

The California Department of Education has updated the dashboard for the first time since 2019. The dashboard tracks the progress of K-12 students on various factors like standardized test scores, chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and graduation rates.

The dashboard was launched in 2017 to showcase the progress of students at the state, district, and school levels using a color-coded system. It provides detailed information on 13 student subgroups, such as English language learners, disabled students, and race/ethnicity. The latest update reflects the progress made during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, which were heavily impacted by the pandemic.

The color-coded system categorizes performance from red (poorest) to green (best), with orange and yellow in between. State officials note that anything below green requires attention and improvement. Due to the pandemic, the release of this information was halted in 2020.

The dashboard incorporates data from various sources, including test scores and chronic absences released in October. Additional data, such as graduation rates and college readiness indicators, was released in the latest update.

This year’s dashboard introduces a new color-coded score to measure the progress of English learners towards proficiency in the English Language Proficiency Assessments of California (ELPAC).

In terms of chronic absenteeism and English learner progress, the state’s status falls in the middle (yellow) between the best (blue) and worst (red). The state’s status is orange, signifying the second-worst, for suspension rates, graduation rates, and performance on standardized tests in math and English language arts.

According to state officials, the results demonstrate that California schools are making progress in recovering from the pandemic, which caused significant declines in standardized test scores and a rise in chronic absenteeism.

“Recovery from the pandemic has been a long process all across the country,” said California State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond. “While we have a long way to go, these results show that California is making strides, especially in enabling students to get to school and graduate ready for college and careers.”

The rate of high school graduates who met the minimum course requirements to attend a CSU or UC reached an all-time high of 45.15%, up from 41.24% in 2016-17. This rate has steadily increased throughout the pandemic.

The statewide four-year graduation rate is 86.2%, a slight decline from last year’s record high of 87%. State officials attribute the slight dip to a return to pre-pandemic policies after temporary changes during the height of the pandemic.

The dashboard’s color coding takes into account not only the level of a metric but also whether it has declined, remained consistent, or improved within the past year.

Math and English language arts test scores both received orange ratings, reflecting minimal change compared to the previous year’s scores. Math scores edged up by 2.6 points, while English scores dipped by 1.4 points.

In 2022-23, the state’s chronic absentee rate was 24.3%, a decrease from the previous year’s high of 30%. However, this rate remains historically poor, about double the rate in 2018-19. The worst category (above 20% chronic absentee rates) applies to 62% of districts.

Nationwide, chronic absenteeism surged in the wake of the pandemic, affecting nearly all school districts. The state highlights the declining chronic absenteeism rate as a positive outcome.

However, some critics question the meaningfulness of the dashboard’s metrics in capturing progress made in the state.

Heather Hough, executive director of PACE, a Stanford-based education research organization, argues that the dashboard was developed prior to the pandemic, when the assumptions about progress were different. Metrics didn’t drastically fluctuate before the pandemic. While noting improvements in chronic absenteeism and standardized test scores, Hough suggests that focusing on one year of change can be misleading.

“That can mask the concern that we should still be having: A lot of students are far behind where they have been, and large portions of students are not attending school,” Hough said.

The color coding system also determines which schools are eligible for additional assistance. Increasing chronic absentee rates have resulted in a surge in schools qualifying for differentiated assistance. The number of eligible school districts rose from 333 in 2019 to 617 in 2022 before decreasing to 466 this year.

Advocates for English learners express concerns about how the dashboard presents metrics, which they believe downplays the urgent needs of these students.

According to the dashboard, about 48.7% of English learners in the state advanced at least one level or remained at the top level of English language proficiency based on ELPAC scores. This percentage is similar to the previous year, categorized as a medium-level (yellow) score with limited change. To achieve a high-level (green) score, the percentage of students making progress toward English proficiency would need to increase by 2 percentage points.

However, advocates argue that fewer than 50% of English learners making progress each year should be considered a very low (red) score rather than a medium (yellow) one.

Californians Together, an organization that advocates for English learners statewide, calls for indicators that require at least 70% of English learners to progress at least one level in one year, categorizing such results as a high (green) level of progress. Currently, the state considers 55% progress as high.

Data shows that about 32.7% of English learners in the state remained at the same lower levels of English proficiency as the previous year, while about 18.6% decreased one level in English proficiency.

Scores for English learner progress vary across districts, with 66 districts falling in the worst category (red), 215 in the second-worst (orange), 152 in the medium (yellow), 192 in the best (green), and 43 in the exceptional (blue).

Critics, including Shelly Spiegel-Coleman from Californians Together, argue that the dashboard’s combined scores for English language arts and math tests fail to convey the needs of English learners accurately.

According to Melissa Valenzuela-Stookey from Ed Trust-West, an education justice advocacy group, the initial data is concerning and highlights the need for improvement, especially for students of color.

“This data shows that the status quo for students of color is unacceptable, and we’re making alarmingly slow progress — but it also points to schools and districts that are proving that we can do better,” Valenzuela-Stookey said.

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