Is My School On Low-Performing List? Good Luck Deciphering State's Confusing Report

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By Leslee Komaiko

The California Department of Education released a list of the lowest performing schools in the state last week, a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. As a parent with two kids at a San Fernando Valley public school and a journalist who often covers education, I was interested to see which Los Angeles schools were on the list.

When I opened the spreadsheet, the list looked daunting. From what I could tell, the schools were in no particular order. A school in Yuba City Unified was followed by one in Riverside Unified, which was followed by one in Lodi Unified. I couldn’t figure out how to narrow the field to Los Angeles schools, beyond scrolling down the massive list. So I did what any good journalist would do. I called the communications office at the Department of Education.

A few minutes later, I had my answer: Click on the caret on the right side of the blue bar atop the C column, go to Filter Table and then scroll down to Los Angeles Unified. I’d now narrowed the results to see LAUSD only. That’s when I saw my kids’ school. I don’t think I said a four-letter word out loud. But I’m pretty sure I thought one. I was shocked and concerned. My eyes wandered, and I caught the name of the West Side school a friend’s son attends. I thought it was so well regarded. Apparently not. I sent her an email. I figured she’d want to know.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized my error. In fact, every public elementary, middle and high school in the state—traditional district, magnet, affiliated and independent charter—appears on the list. (Yes, I immediately let my friend know.) In order to see the lowest performing schools in the district, and only those schools, it turned out I had to use another filter. (In case you’re wondering, the spreadsheet features seven columns: a 14-digit county district school code, the school name, district name, county name, Title 1 status, assistance status, and reporting year.)

This time, I had to go to column F, the Assistance Status column, and get rid of all the “General Assistance” schools, which were the vast majority of the schools (including my kids’ school and the aforementioned West Side school), in order to narrow the field to the 110 LAUSD schools labeled CSI Low Perform, CSI Grad or ATSI. The next order of business: figuring out exactly what those labels mean. More on this below.

If you’re getting the impression that the state’s delivery system for this information is not the most user friendly, you’re catching on. Why the state couldn’t release a district-by-district, alphabetical list of the lowest-performing schools with the corresponding assistance status along with simple explanations is beyond me. As I said to a colleague, this is a weird type of transparency. It’s like frosted glass. And if it’s this hard for a journalist, what hope does the average parent have for deciphering how their kid’s school is performing?

So here’s what I wanted to know and what I eventually found out, with a lot of digging and the help of one very patient public information officer at the CDE. There are 25 LAUSD schools identified by the state as CSI Low Perform (Comprehensive Support and Improvement Low Performance). The state considered only schools receiving Title 1 funds for this designation. They are schools with all red or mostly red indicators on the California School Dashboard, which is a statewide school report card that’s also hard for parents to decipher. (Dashboard categories include Chronic Absenteeism, Suspension Rate, English Learner Progress, English Language Arts, Mathematics, and for high schools, Graduation Rate, and College/Career Readiness.) In other words, these schools are doing poorly across the board. Each of these schools will receive an estimated $166,211 additional funding. Here’s a list of these schools in Los Angeles:

CSI Low Perform Schools

Academy for Multilingual Arts and Science at Mervyn M. Dymally High

Animo College Preparatory Academy

Animo Phyllis Wheatley Charter Middle

Augustus F. Hawkins High B Community Health Advocates

Boyle Heights STEM High

Brentwood Science

Bret Harte Preparatory Middle

California Collegiate Charter

CDS Secondary

Century Park Elementary

Charles Leroy Lowman Special Education and Career Transition Center

Discovery Charter Preparatory School #2

Frida Kahlo High

George Washington Preparatory High

Holmes Avenue Elementary

Ingenium Charter Middle

Joaquin Miller Career and Transition Center

KIPP Academy of Opportunity

Manual Arts Senior High

Odyssey Continuation

Panorama High

Van Nuys Middle

Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet Health/Sports Medicine

William Mulholland Middle

Youth Opportunities Unlimited

The second group of Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools (CSI Grad) are high schools with the lowest graduation rates: below 67 percent when averaging 2017 and 2018. Using the strict formula employed by the state, 28 LAUSD schools landed on this list. But they are overwhelmingly continuation schools and special education centers. As LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) pointed out at Tuesday’s school board meeting, the former often serve credit-deficient students who may be struggling with additional issues outside of school, and the latter serve students with moderate to severe disabilities who may not be working towards the regular high school diploma but instead a different graduation requirement. Gonez lauded the development of a local school performance framework “so that we can see who are the truly underperforming schools when we're comparing apples to apples.” Like the CSI Low Perform schools, each CSI Grad school is expected to receive an estimated $166,211 in additional funding.

Finally, there are the ATSI schools, or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement schools. These are schools that are failing a particular group or groups of students. To find out which group or groups each of these 54 schools is failing, naturally you need to consult a different spreadsheet. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of ATSI schools are failing student groups we hear over and over again are not getting the critical support they need and deserve: students with disabilities, African American students and/or English Learners. Unlike the Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools, ATSI schools are not expected to receive any additional state funding. My response? Thanks for nothing.

I hope in the future, the Department of Education will be more transparent with stakeholders. Their own website reads: “Research proves that family engagement is one of the best tools to help a student succeed in school. We have gathered here some information that can help you support your child’s education. That includes… determining how well a particular school performs—.” If they really mean this, they’ll ditch the frosted glass and replace it with something that’s crystal clear.

 -- With additional reporting from Roxann Nazario