The Education Trust - West urges district leaders and community members to use these report cards to build a more comprehensive picture of student performance. Stakeholders should consider each performance indicator in turn and benchmark their district’s performance against others. Armed with this data on performance and progress, we believe local leaders and community members can work together to identify the strategic investments necessary to improve outcomes for Latino, African-American, and low-income students – who comprise the majority of California’s student population.
A primary focus on equity in achievement must be at the heart of any district’s efforts. Specifically, we recommend that district leaders and community members:
- Establish clear, ambitious goals in a variety of areas, including performance, improvement, gaps, and college readiness. Simply achieving the state’s modest goals for API growth will not transform California schools and districts. It is imperative that districts and communities consider a broader range of achievement indicators that will offer deeper insight into how well the district’s students of color and low-income students are performing. By continuously monitoring progress against targets in these areas, districts can ensure that equity in educational opportunity and achievement is a focus of their ongoing improvement efforts.
- Use the data in these report cards to help benchmark performance and spur action. These report cards and peer group rankings provide district leaders with tools to benchmark their performance against other districts across the state. By seeing how their students of color and low-income students perform relative to those in other California districts, district leaders and community members are armed with the data necessary to understand baseline levels of performance and advocate for change. These data, which describe current levels of achievement, should serve as a catalyst for continued and increased investments in programs and strategies aimed at increasing educational opportunity and achievement among the district’s highest need students.
This must be done against a backdrop of accountability for results and transparency into performance. California schools and districts are currently, and rightly, held accountable for performance and year-to-year progress. However, the state can strengthen its current accountability system by doing the following:
- Report data on achievement gaps between groups of students. The public should know the extent to which achievement gaps exist and whether these gaps are closing.
- Calculate district, school, and subgroup improvement scores using student-level longitudinal data. Such growth data would shed light on the impact teachers, schools, and districts have on student achievement and would highlight the progress made by every student and subgroup.
- Include a stronger focus on college-readiness. We ought to know how well schools and districts are preparing students for college and careers, not just how well they are mastering the existing K-12 standards. By including indicators of college-readiness or college-going in the overall accountability framework, California will send an important message to its schools about what it values and expects.
Districts that consistently meet or exceed their accountability goals and positively impact the achievement of all students should be rewarded with increased flexibility over how funds, including categorical dollars, are spent at the local level. That way, schools and districts will be incentivized to innovate and use human and financial resources more effectively on behalf of students.
We know that good—and even great—results are possible. Success can be realized in high-poverty and low-poverty districts alike, and in districts serving significant numbers of students of color. These districts prove the possible, making it difficult for others to continue to hide behind the excuses of poverty and circumstance. (See our promising practices page for profiles of lessons learned from some of these districts.
For more information about the policy priorities of The Education Trust – West, see our policy priorities.