LAUSD Board Proposes Creating School Rating System For Parents

LAUSD Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6), George McKenna (BD1) and Nick Melvoin (BD4) are introducing a resolution Tuesday calling on the district to create a system to measure school performance. It would provide a single annual school rating to help parents make better school choices and give the district information to support struggling schools.

 Board Member Kelly Gonez

Board Member Kelly Gonez

By creating a single summary school rating, LAUSD is stepping in to provide an easy-to-use tool that the state has so far failed to create with its California School Dashboard. “The dashboard is really complex, even for people like me who are very familiar with and comfortable with data,” Gonez said. “Both for the purposes of our schools wanting to continuously improve but also for parents and the public, there needs to be greater clarity. District action is essential.”

The primary emphasis of the performance framework – which will be used to evaluate both district-run and independent charter schools – will be academic student achievement and growth. However, the rating system is intended to be holistic and will include other factors such as school climate and social-emotional issues.

“While we haven’t said specifically what will go into the rating, my hunch is that parents will say that in addition to student achievement, we want parent surveys in there,” Melvoin said. “Whether that’s 5 percent or 20 percent, those are the conversations we’re going to have with the community.” 

The resolution, which will be voted on at the April 10 Board meeting, calls for the formation of a stakeholder working group to help create the system – one that includes parents and community organizations, as well as teachers, administrators, district officials, labor unions and charter school groups. “I definitely think it’s important for parents to be part of that working group to provide their unique perspective on what the criteria should look like,” Gonez said.

Speak UP was one of several groups that worked behind the scenes to help develop this resolution, and Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude said she hopes Speak UP will be a part of the working group, as well. “We’re really excited this is happening,” Braude said. “We see it as a great first step toward creating an accountability system for all schools in Los Angeles. And we hope that this provides parents with much-needed transparency on how well their schools are doing and how they compare.”

 Board Vice President Nick Melvoin

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin

LAUSD used to send parents a school report card, but that effort was discontinued in 2016 because of budget constraints. This new system may be electronic only, which would save costs. “We are developing the parent app, as well as the Open Data Portal, so perhaps there’s a way to make that data a little bit more 21st century accessible rather than mailing out physical report cards to parents,” Gonez said.

Gonez and Melvoin both envision the rating system being used in three separate ways. It will help prospective parents compare school performance so they can choose the best fit for their kids through the unified enrollment system and work toward improving schools where their kids are currently enrolled. It will create a uniform way to evaluate schools of every model, which will inform the charter school renewal process. And it will help identify the lowest-performing schools so the district can direct extra resources and support to the schools most in need.

Those final two pieces of the resolution will be operating on parallel tracks with two other proposals being introduced in April. Board members Ref Rodriguez (BD5) and Richard Vladovic (BD7) are also introducing a resolution Tuesday to clarify and update the charter authorization and oversight process and policies. And Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian will be presenting to the Board a plan to update the district’s Equity Index, which helps direct additional resources to students most in need, including foster students, low-income students and English Language Learners. 

Charter school leaders have been working with the district to update a list of policies that charters must include in their petitions, which will be brought for a vote on Tuesday. Charter advocates want to make sure any new rating system informing the charter renewal process does not water down or change the emphasis required by state law: an authorization process based primarily on student academic achievement.

Gonez said the Rodriguez-Vladovic charter authorization resolution “could align nicely” with their school rating resolution. “The fact that these two processes could be happening simultaneously, one could help inform the other,” she said. “I think the timing is right. The state law on charters has not changed at all, despite the fact that our accountability and assessment systems have changed dramatically. I think there’s a little bit of ambiguity that could help be filled by this effort.”

Ekchian’s proposal for a new Equity Index was debated at length at the Committee of the Whole meeting on March 20. Her new index proposal, which would help determine how three percent of the district’s budget is allocated, is expected to include community factors such as gun violence and asthma rates, and may also include academic achievement.

Melvoin however, said that he and some other Board members want the Equity Index to focus more on the challenges students come into school with, and to keep academic achievement a part of the accountability framework that may ultimately stem from this school rating resolution.

All of this begs the question: What will LAUSD do to help fix the low-performing schools identified by the new rating system? The value of throwing more money at underperforming schools was another hot topic of discussion at the meeting March 20.

“Is it always about money? I think not,” McKenna told the Board. “No matter how much money you put into a school you don’t necessarily get to adequacy. And if we don’t give them the best teachers, then we’ve not provided them with adequacy. Teachers are more important than salaries and money. The quality of a teacher.”

 Board Member George McKenna and Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian

Board Member George McKenna and Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian

Ekchian agreed with McKenna and proposed that LAUSD pick 50 of the lowest-performing elementary schools and add an additional $250,000 to their budgets for an analysis of why they’re struggling and for literacy specialists. She also said those schools could be exempt from having must-place teachers whom principals don’t want to hire. “I don’t think any kind of dollar amount will make a difference if we do not make changes to how we actually treat staffing,” Ekchian said.

“Money isn’t a panacea,” Melvoin added. “Money matters, but it’s how you spend it. The issue around both the accountability tool and the Equity Index is about the how-we-spend-it piece. Yes, we want more money. But if we’re going to advocate, we need to convince parents and the community that we have a plan in place to spend it well to improve achievement.

“I have my feelings about various school turnaround efforts, like new leadership, like waivers, targeted supports,” Melvoin added. “But that’s kind of the next phase of the conversation.”

McKenna, for one, was excited by the possibilities. “I believe that we have an opportunity that we’ve never had before, if we want to take it,” he said. “We have a chance now. We’ve got different Board members now, and we’re talking in a different way, which I appreciate.”