04/29/2015 by Ed Coghlan

Group of reform-minded California schools measuring more than test scores


(Photo Credit: Violeta Vaqueiro)

If you think test scores and accountability are the only way to judge academic success, you’ll find yourself in an argument with the head of the CORE Districts (CORE).

Rick Miller is the executive director of CORE, which is a collaborative of 10 California school districts representing one million students, looking at ways to predict and achieve student success.

“You’re not going to get the educational outcomes you want if all you pay attention to is testing and limited, punitive accountability,” Miller said.

The CORE districts asked for and received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal regulations. Miller and the districts argued that current accountability model in NCLB simply doesn’t include enough data.

“We thought it was too narrow, just looking at test scores in a few grades,” he said.

So CORE developed a School Quality Improvement Index that, among other things, has evolved from a narrow focus on academic indicators to a holistic view that measures not only how a student is doing in the classroom but also adds social, emotional and school culture indicators as well.

“Academics are still critical, obviously, and account for 60 percent of our index,” Miller explained. “But other factors like chronic absenteeism, how students, teachers and parents view their school, suspension and expulsion rates also have to be considered.”

This emphasis on the social emotional and school culture and climate is drawing national attention. Miller’s colleague Noah Bookman underscored the importance of measuring the school culture.

“We ask for the student’s perception about the support they get for academic learning or how connected they feel to the school, and if those surveys indicate challenges exist, that may be the place to start to improve academic performance,” Bookman said.

Here’s one example:

The CORE districts think they have developed a data model that can predict whether an eighth grader is going to finish high school. They decided to measure this because they were concerned that far too many of their students would leave middle school and not go onto to finish high school.

What they found was, if an eighth grade student has 2.5 grade point average (or better), has a 96 percent attendance rate or better in eighth grade and has never been suspended during that school year, that student is most likely to graduate from high school.

“We can’t get students career and college ready if they aren’t in school,” Miller said.

And we know that when Californians finish high school they are better positioned to be employable, to stay out of trouble and earn more money in their lifetime than those who don’t finish.

CORE’s social-emotional learning work has generated a lot of attention.

CORE has piloted measurement instruments for four Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) indicators that include self-efficacy, growth mindset, social awareness and self-management. The idea is to develop a collective SEL Strategy at the school, measure the students’ competency, engage educators and parents about social emotional learning and put it into practice.

“There is national interest in our social emotional assessment because it’s unique among the 40 some states with NCLB waivers,” Miller said.

What to do with all this academic, social and emotional data?

By now you’ve figured out that CORE is not a top-down organization, but rather believes that local district innovation and expertise in preparing students for college and career is best achieved thorough cross-district collaboration, and that the knowledge, experience, and expertise to lead improvement efforts exists within schools and districts.

The data will be delivered to different stakeholder groups in the districts later this year. In the first year, the districts will look at the data and begin to assess how to improve.

“We believe the system can best be improved by building our internal capacity with an intervention strategy where schools are helping each other, learning from each other and collectively getting better.”

Noah Bookman added, “We believe that as CORE indicators become part of a comparative data set—like my absentee rate versus yours—real improvement can occur.”

And, “real improvement in California schools” is at the heart (or should we say at the core) of what this organization is trying to do.

Editor’s Note: The Core School Districts are Clovis, Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Ana and Sanger. To learn more about CORE, click here. Miller recently presented some of CORE’s findings to the LCFF Collaborative working group created by the California School Board Association and California Forward.

Categories: Community Services, School Governance, Local Control Funding Formula, Education, LCFF

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